Saturday, July 21, 2012

Jeremy Lin signs with Houston, Stephen A.'s a hater

The Knicks declined to match the Rockets' 3 year, $25.1 million offer for Jeremy Lin.  And just like that, Linsanity in NY officially comes to an end.  I am completely confused as to why the Knicks refused to match.  The decision lacks logic and rational, no matter what Stephen A spews.

First, from NY's perspective, they should have matched.  The first two years of Jeremy's contract was around the $5 million mark, which is arguably underpaying what would be your greatest marketing asset.  The 3rd and last year of this contract is understandably harder to swallow, given the $15 million salary and the subsequent cap and tax implications.

However, the Knicks were absolutely willing to match when the initial rumor was just under a $10 million 3rd year salary, putting out the "match up to a billion dollars" quote.  You're telling me that an additional $5 mil is what scared billionaire Dolan away?  You're telling me that its Jeremy's fault that you'll be capped out in that 3rd year though you've already handed out about $60 mil to just 3 players?  You're telling me Jeremy doesn't bring in more interest and more money than any of them?  The 3rd year of his contract, as many writers have pointed out, is also useful as an expiring contract trade piece, if it should really come to that and he doesn't pan out as forecasted.  Ultimately, his upside was that he could possibly be your 2nd best player behind Carmelo, and even in that 3rd year, would be about the 3rd highest player on the team.  His value off the court alone should have immediately caused them to bring him back.  You just don't let an asset that you unearthed walk away for nothing.  At the very least, sign and trade him later for something.  Anything.

So no, this decision was purely emotional on Dolan's part.  He was probably unhappy that the initial report was $10 mil but the official offer was $15mil.  He was unhappy that Jeremy's representatives were working hard to secure the best contract for their player, instead of cutting the hometown team a break.  Then why didn't the Knicks offer Jeremy a contract up front then?  Why let him shop his services around the league then throw a hissy fit when someone finally puts their money where their mouth is, unlike NY?

Carmelo continues to be one of the most unlikeable stars in the NBA.  Who can forget the slap and run punk move he pulled on the Knicks' Collins back in his Nuggets days?  Or the lack of defensive effort in addition to the I-hold-the-ball-then-shoot-because-I-am-Carmelo offense he's exhibited throughout his career?  They say he's a star, but it is obvious to most that his teams will never win an NBA championship with him as their alpha dog.  Carmelo has been past the 1st round of the playoffs, JUST ONCE IN ELEVEN YEARS.  I can only hope he somehow ends up on the Lakers.

It is blatantly obvious that Carmelo did not want Jeremy on the team for one reason and one reason only: jealousy.  Jeremy's popularity during that month far outweighed anything Carmelo has ever received here in NY, and Melo wasn't having that.  Unquestionably, that's why Carmelo made sure D'Antoni, a coach with a ball movement offensive mind, didn't finish the season.  And its also why Carmelo threw Jeremy under the bus with his "ridiculous" comment about the offer sheet, before the Knicks had made its final decision.  In the NBA, you don't mock a fellow player's contract during talks.  There should be a brotherhood of supporting one another in getting the best contract possible.  All that was thrown out the window when it came to Jeremy, in Carmelo's eyes.

But secondly, from Jeremy's perspective, leaving the Knicks for the Rockets was the better situation for him many times over.  Primarily, it gets him away from Carmelo's on-court ball-hogging and his off-court jealousy.  It gets him away from an offense and a coach who does not properly utilize Jeremy's talents.  It also gets him away from the constant crush of the NY media, which can wear on anyone, especially one who rose to fame out of nowhere.  In Houston, Jeremy is actually wanted and he has a coach in McHale who is known as a PG-centric, pick-and-roll coach.  The rebuilding team gives Jeremy time to really develop into a complete player without the expectations of championship basketball.  In NY, it was only going to be a matter of time before the adulation turned to outright harsh criticism.  It happens to everyone in NY, unless you win all the time.  Even Eli Manning needed a 2nd championship to turn back the wolves.

Stephen A is one of those critics and he got an early start.  I'll put it out there like this.  If Jeremy Lin was an African-American who graduated from Harvard, went undrafted, cut twice, then drops 38 points on Kobe's Lakers in the midst of one incredible month of wins, Stephen A would be showing him nonstop love.  But no.  Stephen A probably thinks NBA superstar world should belong solely to the African-American and he'll be darned if an Asian-American out of nowhere keeps getting this kind of attention.

His first article: Knicks must let Jeremy Lin go:

"Jeremy Lin has been all about the money since the day he burst onto Broadway."
 - Really.  The kid who's faced nothing but hardship and lack of opportunity finally gets a chance and blows up.  His story, his humility and his passion for team-play becomes an international sensation and he led his teams to wins.  Meanwhile, he turns down countless opportunities to cash in on this fame, instead only opting for a few carefully selected brands to align with.  Nobody in their right mind is accusing Jeremy of being all about the money.  Except Stephen A that is, who starts his article with that line.  By the way, even if this false statement were true, why should it viewed negatively when it comes to Jeremy?  Every other player in the NBA has a right to try to maximize their earning potential, but Stephen A is using what is a false statement anyway, to impugn Jeremy's character.

"He definitely was overcome by dollar signs when he wouldn't play at "85 percent" for the New York Knicks in the playoffs".
- Jeremy is coming off a knee injury, unable to even touch the rim, still 15% away from what he deems minimum threshold to play, in a hopeless task vs the eventual champion Heat, all while teammate veterans are advising him not to rush back.  But right, Stephen A knows better.  mmm-hmm. 

"Fear of injury is one thing. Fear of getting outplayed and exposed in postseason competition is another."
-Piece of garbage journalism without a single shred of evidence to the fact.  Jeremy Lin overcomes all odds at every level of competition to make it in the NBA, and he doesn't WANT to play in the playoffs?  Add to the fact that the Knicks are extreme underdogs and he has absolutely nothing to lose except his health?  Stephen couldn't back up that asinine statement at all then actually followed up that character assassination with this:

"To be clear, Lin wasn't wrong about this at all.... He should be called an astute businessman right now with the deal he swindled out of the Rockets."
- The majority of the article lambasted Jeremy for being greedy and cowardly.  Then Stephen A covers himself by saying that Jeremy made the right decision?  So let me get this straight.  Jeremy acted correctly the whole time, but you're going to try to destroy his reputation anyway?  Got it.

"And when did Jeremy Lin -- in Year 3 of this deal -- become the second coming of Chris Paul?"
- Chris Paul will make $17.8 mil this year.  You know who will make around the $14.8m this year that Jeremy will in 2013/14?  Baron Davis - $14.8m.  Rashard Lewis will make $15m, as will Boozer.  Would you rather have a polished and marketable Lin or one of those guys?  Remember, we're not talking about the current Lin.  We're talking about a Lin with 2+ years under his belt, packaged with his endless marketing power.

Stephen A's 2nd article - "NY couldn't wait for Lin to be great".

"If Knicks remain mired in mediocrity, departure of J-Lin will be the last reason why."
 - You gotta love how Stephen A covers his backside.  

"It was about Jeremy Lin not seeing the forest for the trees, salivating over green instead of orange and blue -- choosing to play for a team on a track to nowhere instead of continuing to help his former team position itself for championship contention."
 - Is Stephen A suggesting that Jeremy play for the Knicks out the goodness of his heart?  Moreover, how did Jeremy choose the Rockets over the Knicks if it was the Knicks that wanted Jeremy to sign an offer sheet elsewhere and then refused to match it, after telling the world they would match anything?  The Knicks were the ones who didn't choose Jeremy (get it straight), even though their billionaire owner could easily afford it.  And seriously, are the Knicks anywhere close to championship contention?

"Lin's departure won't be the problem if the Knicks continue to find themselves mired in mediocrity. Not with the likes of Melo, Amare, Kidd and Felton still on the squad."
-Melo + Amare has been disastrous so far.  Kidd is nearing 40.  Felton is overweight and vastly overrated by Stephen A.  Like it or not, Jeremy would have been the best point guard on the team, bar none.  Why is Stephen A so hung up about the money as if its coming out of his wallet?  The Knicks have never been averse to spending dough. 

""(He was) the dude who undeferentially spewed, "We gotta learn to play together," upon Anthony's return, instead of acknowledging he was the one who needed to learn to play with Melo."
- This is gets to the heart of Stephen A's motivation.  He is clearly brown-nosing here, pleasing the superstar.  What basketball coach on earth doesn't want a player like Jeremy, who wants to play a team-first, ball-movement type of basketball?  How can Stephen A say this when Carmelo is an utter failure at playoff basketball and when his hero-ball style doesn't win?  And if you ever saw Jeremy Lin speak on camera about wanting the Knicks to keep their team chemistry going, how could anyone actually surmise that he was "undeferentially" (not a word) spewing anything?  In the range of attitudes when it comes to athletes speaking on record, can Jeremy be considered anywhere other than the absolute upper echelon of humility?  This was another baseless attack on Jeremy's character by Stephen A in order to stay on Carmelo's good side.

"If Lin wanted to stay badly enough, he would not have ticked off a billionaire owner who previously had told him, "We have plans for you," by back-dooring him in the 11th hour."
- Laughable.  Inaccurate.  Indefensible.  Jeremy never thought he wasn't going to be a Knick until they traded for Felton out of nowhere, after already signing Jason Kidd.  Who's ticking off who?  What 11th hour is Stephen A talking about?  Jeremy was presented with 1 offer sheet, not 2.  He signed it.  He did what he was supposed to do.  The Knicks had 3 whole days to decide. If you look at the facts, it was Dolan who ultimately turned on Jeremy.

All that said, I've actually always liked Stephen A.  His job is to entertain us and he does that well.  We just can't think of him as an actual NBA analyst.  He doesn't analyze, he just opines.  For analysis, go read some Hubie Brown.  But everyone tells me that it is my Asian duty to hate him, so there you go.  I hope Jeremy hits a buzzer beater to eliminate Carmelo's 20 win Knicks next season.  And I hope Stephen A eats his words.

Monday, July 9, 2012

UCLA's Love & Westbrook and 2012 Olympic Roster

Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook were selected to represent the US in the London 2012 Olympics.  They are hoping to bring home the US' 2nd consecutive gold medal and 14th overall gold since Olympic basketball's inception in 1936.  These two would only be UCLA's 9th and 10th representatives ever in US men's olympic basketball.  After UCLA sent 5 players in 1936, we've only had 3 more representatives over the years, none on the same team, until this year.  Love and Westbrook were key players on the championship team from the 2010 FIBA World Championships and now they've earned their spots this season.  Though possible team choices in Wade, Rose, Bosh, Aldridge and Howard were all ruled out through injury, it is still very likely that Love and Westbrook would have made the team anyway.  I listed all of UCLA's bball Olympians throughout history.  Honestly, I thought there would have been much more.

UCLA's Men USA Basketball Olympians

Sam Balter
Carl Knowles
Frank Lubin
Donald Piper
Carl Shy

Don Barksdale

Walt Hazzard

Reggie Miller

Kevin Love
Russell Westbrook

US Men's Olympic Bball

The US has won the Olympic Gold in 13 of the 17 tournaments, starting in 1936.  It is well-documented that they were robbed of the 1972 gold by the Soviets and the refs (extremely reminiscent of the 2002 Kings-Lakers robbery).  But the 1980 gold went to Yugoslavia because of the US Olympic boycott (doesn't count if we didn't try).  The 1988 loss of our college kids at the hands of the Soviet pros brought on the addition of NBA pros, resulting in the US unleashing the 1992 Dream Team on the world.  Lastly, the utter failure in 2004 as a result of selfish or incomplete (mentally or physically) players like Iverson, Marbury, Odom and Marion made us realize that the world was catching up, and only our best pros would do.

In response, our 2008 Redeem Team, as it was called, was led by our best superstars in their prime: Kidd, Kobe, Lebron, Wade and Howard.  The others were Paul, Deron Williams, Redd, Anthony, Prince, Boozer and Bosh.  This year's squad was set to bring back all but Kidd, Redd, Prince and Boozer.

As for this year's roster, with pivotal players in Wade, Rose and the 3 skilled big men in Bosh, Howard and Aldridge out due to injury, USA basketball has chosen to not replace position for position, but instead opted for extremely versatile options for quicker and more athletic lineups.  Though Harden would have certainly been axed for Wade, Bosh and Howard would probably have joined Love and Chandler on the frontline.  (It would have been interesting to see if Coach K would have chosen Rose AND Westbrook, since they already have Paul and Williams in the fold.)  Had Howard been healthy, he would have again manned the middle, given Bosh/Love more time at PF, and allowed Lebron/Durant/Anthony more time on the perimeter.

But as it is, the US may not even have the best big men in the Olympics, since Spain has the Gasol brothers and now Serge Ibaka, newly nationalized.  However, the US are obviously still heavy favorites, with an unmatched perimeter depth - the subs could win the gold medal on their own.  Given that only two players would exclusively play their own position, Paul at PG and Chandler and C, I've listed the 2012 roster based on the likely roles they were selected for.  I'm ignoring the fact that Lebron and Carmelo can actually play all 5 positions if necessary.

2012 Roster

Chris Paul

Deron Williams
Russell Westbrook

Kobe Bryant

James Harden
Andre Iguodala

Lebron James
Kevin Durant
Carmelo Anthony

Kevin Love
Blake Griffin

Tyson Chandler

Our starting lineup will probably be: Paul, Kobe, Durant, Lebron (at PF), Chandler.
Rotational subs: Love, Williams, Westbrook, Anthony.
Bench (only when necessary): Harden for 3 pointers, Iguodala for D, Griffin for big men foul trouble.

1992 Dream Team

Just saw NBA TV's documentary, "Dream Team".  Besides Stockton's incognito stroll through Barcelona and Barkley's willingness to say anything, the most memorable scene was the intense Monaco intra-squad scrimmage fueled by Magic and Jordan's trash-talking.  If you think about it in terms of collecting the best basketball players, Isiah Thomas and Dominique Wilkins ought to have been on the team.  But for reasons of team chemistry (Thomas) and defensive effort (Wilkins), Stockton and Mullin (chosen for his shooting) were clearly the better options.  Looking back, it is incredible that they managed to gather 11 Hall of Fame players together.  I'm still not sure why Laettner needed to be included.  Though he's possibly the greatest collegiate player of all time, he's contributed really nothing since then.  However, I suppose its better to have a willing bench-warmer than a 5th NBA allstar PF/C who seethes over lack of minutes.

Magic, Stockton

Jordan, Drexler

Pippen, Bird, Mullin

Malone, Barkley, Laettner

Robinson, Ewing

So how would our best US squad today (not taking into account injuries) fare vs the '92ers?

Magic/Stockton vs Paul/Rose/Westbrook
Well, Magic/Stockton have the size and superior court vision.  Our PGs today hold the edge in speed and athleticism.  I love Magic, but quick guards were the Dream Team's only weakness, and the '12 PGs would be light-years faster than anything they've ever seen.  Edge: 2012.

Jordan/Drexler vs Bryant/Wade
Jordan always wins.  Always.  Eat your heart out, Kobe.  Edge:1992.

Pippen/Bird/Mullin vs James/Durant/Anthony
This tips 2012's way.  Yes, Pippen might be one of the greatest defenders of all time, but Bird was an old Bird and Lebron is a specimen that even Pippen thinks might be the GOAT (besides Jordan).  I didn't even mention Durant or Anthony in their primes.  Edge: 2012.

Barkley/Malone vs Love/Bosh
Barklone wins in a landslide.  They would have to scrape Bosh off Malone's shoe. Edge: 1992.

Robinson/Ewing vs Howard/Bynum
Easily the most lopsided of all positions.  Edge: 1992.

The '92 team would eat the '12 team alive.  Their 11 Hall of Famers to, at most, 7 guys who might make it to Springfield one day (hmm, Kobe, Lebron, Durant, Paul, maybe Rose, Wade, Howard or even Love) from current day?  Especially in the post, the '12 team would get crushed.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Spain: Greatest National Team of All Time

After responding to the critics calls of "boring!" by easily scoring 4 goals in the final of a major championship(!), Spain showed what it can do when other teams fatefully decide not to bunker.  La Roja put on the finest display of its patented passing/possessing style in the game that earned them the media-anointed title, The Greatest Team of All Time.  Of course, we should clarify that by saying that perhaps a club team like Barcelona of the last few years, with Messi and others, might be able to challenge that claim, but we'll never know.  But as far as an national side?

Other teams that need consideration include the 1958, 1962, 1970 Brazil teams who won 3 of 4 World Cups.  However they didn't even make it out of the group stage in 1966.  The 1994-2002 Brazil teams made it to 3 consecutive WC finals, winning in '94 and '02, and deserve a mention at least.  But Spain is the only side that won 3 major championships consecutively.  Granted, the Euro cups deny Spain the opportunity to prove themselves against the only worthy traditional non-European contenders in Brazil and Argentina (notice how I ignored Uruguay), which casts a sliver of doubt on their GOAT claim.

However, the dominance they displayed, against the caliber of competition, over the span of 3 international tournaments, give them the strongest argument.  Plus, then we can always say that we were the only team to eliminate the Greatest Team of All Time in an international tournament (US 2 - Spain 0, 2009 Confed Cup Semifinal) in the midst of their run.

There are few things in soccer that are more beautiful than Espana's perfectly weighted and timed through-balls.  Sure, Beckham's free kicks, Brazil's joga bonito, Messi's lightning fast slight-of-foot tricks, (all USA goals, admittedly mostly consisting of the ugly-yet-effective variety), or pretty much anything Zidane does on the pitch, immediately come to mind when I think of the beautiful game.  But Spain's tiki-taka style, resulting in those perfect through-balls for a perfectly timed run and subsequent goal, is absolutely delightful, absolutely pure.  And in the '12 Euro Cup Final, they did it 4 times.

Here are the starters from the '08 Euro Cup, '10 World Cup, '12 Euro Cup knockout games that accomplished this feat.  (Its hard to actually delineate the roles of their many midfielders so I just divided into 3 categories even though the line is blurred when it comes to players like Xavi and Alonso.)

2008 Euro Cup
Forwards: Torres/Villa - Both started (but Fabregas started when Villa was injured for the final).
Attacking midfield: Iniesta-Fabregas-Silva
Holding midfield: Xavi
Def midfield: Senna
Defense: Capdevilla-Marchena-Puyol-Ramos
Goalkeeper: Casillas
Key Subs: FW Guiza, MF Alonso, MF Cazorla

2010 World Cup
Forward: Villa
Attacking midfield: Iniesta-Pedro
Holding midfield: Xavi
Defensive midfield: Alonso-Busquets
Defense: Capdevilla-Puyol-Pique-Ramos
Goalkeeper: Casillas
Key Subs: FW Torres, MF Fabregas, MF Navas, DF Marchena

2012 Euro Cup
FW/AM: Fabregas - Even though Negredo strangely started the semifinal.
Attacking midfield: Iniesta-Silva
Holding midfield: Xavi
Defensive midfield: Alonso-Busquets
Defense: Alba-Ramos-Pique-Arbeloa
Goalkeeper: Casillas
Key Subs: FW Torres, MF Pedro, MF Navas

So the players who played a critical role in all 3 championships include just these 7:

Torres, Iniesta, Xavi, Alonso, Fabregas, Ramos, Casillas.
Clearly Villa would and Puyol would have been starters had they been healthy this tournament.  (Villa would have taken minutes from Torres and Fabregas.  Puyol would have moved the versatile Ramos to RB, and pushed Arbeloa onto the bench.)

If Spain goes into Brazil and wins the 2014 World Cup (of which they would be clear favorites), we could then rightfully bestow upon them the title of "Greatest Team of All Time in Any Sport".  Honestly, I would not mind seeing that at all (of course as long as the US are already out).