The Outlet 3.15: the NBA's Bizarre Gems (also: Selective Empathy for Mr. Rose)

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Remember how we had that one series, a long time ago, where we'd entreat our writers to scribe short vignettes on the previous night's games? We've consistently discovered there's no way for us to do that every night, but with the capsules done and Aaron back in the saddle as a more active managing editor, we're hoping that we can bring the feature back as a weekly Wednesday post. Sometimes Thursday, like today. As always, the vignettes may not always be tactful, tacit, or terse -- they'll always be under a thousand words, though, and generally attempt to work through a question, an observation, or a feeling. Today's short pieces are as follows.

  • IND vs CLE: The Bizarre Diamond in the Roughest of Roughs (by Aaron McGuire)
  • GENERAL: Derrick Rose and Selective Empathy (by Adam Koscielak)

Read on after the jump. Continue reading

Fallout: Phil Vegas #1 -- A Run of Bad Luck

fallout phil vegas

... What seemed like a simple delivery job has taken a turn for the worse. ...


"Guess who's wakin' up over here."

Phil Jackson blinked twice -- his hands were tied. He was kneeling in a graveyard on a dry, dark night. His head was pounding and his mouth was parched. Sore all over, like he'd been thrown around by a tornado for the last seventeen years. The pronounced aches of an old center's age were replaced by the more pressing aches of a man beaten to hell. He looked up, the blur in his vision fading. The confusion got worse. There was a young man in a strange suit with two weapon-clad bodyguards at his sides. The man looked at him. "Time to cash out." Phil blinked again. Is that a young Craig Sager? Before he could vocalize the thought, one of the armed guards jeered at the younger Sager. "Would you get it over with?"

"Maybe Khans kill people without lookin' em in the face, but I ain't a fink. Dig?" Phil stared blankly. OK. He's definitely talking like Craig Sager. "You've made your last delivery, kid." The man took out a silver poker chip, acting as though it would mean something to Jackson, then pocketed it. "Sorry you got twisted up in this scene. From where you're kneeling, must seem like an 18 carat run of bad luck. Truth is, the game was rigged from the start." The man who resembled Craig Sager whipped out a gun -- it had a picture of the Virgin Mary engraved into the handle. Wait, for real? Craig Sager... kills people? With a stupidly ostentatious pistol? Is THAT where he gets the money for those suits? Everything makes sense. The man pointed the gun at Phil's head. Phil opened his mouth -- partly in speech, partly in shock.

"Wait... Craig, really?" BANG. Phil Jackson's world went dark. Continue reading

Small Market Mondays #16: How the Mighty Have Fallen

Remember our cracked-skull columnist, Alex Arnon? He hit his head a while back, fainted, and woke up a delusional man with tidings of a world where small markets ruled all comers. Over the past month, Arnon has been dealing with "personal matters", a thinly veiled cover-up for Arnon's voyage through the Serengeti to produce his new TV pilot for the local access channel: "What Blue Wildebeast Wants to Be A Millionaire?" (I tried to tell him it wouldn't work, especially with a total production budget of $3.54, but Arnon is a freakishly determined young man who doesn't need my sass.) Regardless. He's been kidnapped by a rampaging horde of zebras and is being ransomed off for drugs and money, even though zebras don't have the opposable thumbs necessary to do drugs or the credit score to spend the money. Until I can patch together a resolution to the situation, I'll be taking the reins to our Small Market Monday feature. Just let me knock myself in the head with this small market butter churner and I'll be right with you.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Gaze upon them, young small marketeers. Once, this team was the league's holy-of-holies. The team that the modern league juts out and features more than any other. The team with a market bigger than its britches and stars upon stars upon stars. But stars can't match grit and heart and guile -- not like you see in teams like the 29-48 Washington Wizards or the 24-52 Cleveland Cavaliers. No, this team of star power and free agent shuffling isn't a lock to win anything.

I refer, of course, to the Miami Heat.

"What!" you say, exclaiming in shock. "But Aaron, didn't they just win a flippity-gibbit of games... in a row?" Yes, readers, I looked it up -- they did indeed. But when I turned on my nationally televised grit-n-grind matchup between the plucky Charlotte Bobcats and the flagging Miami Heat, I couldn't help but feel bad for the boys in the gross-looking black and red jerseys. Sure, they had LeBron and Wade -- once. But they're gone now. And Chris Bosh can't play the entire game! Just look at some of the lineups Coach Spolestra was forced to play now that the team has lost their two stars!

  • Norris Cole / James Jones / Shane Battier / Rashard Lewis / Chris Anderson (Outscored CHA by 4)
  • Mario Chalmers / James Jones / Mike Miller / Rashard Lewis / Joel Anthony (Outscored CHA by 1)
  • Norris Cole / James Jones / Shane Battier / Rashard Lewis / Chris Anderson (Outscored CHA by 5)

Look at those lineups! Isn't that wild? Somehow, Miami's D-Team gutted out a win against the good ol' Bobcats -- it was tough, but the Bobcats took pity on those hilarious lineups and decided to lay off the gas a bit. But we all know who's going to be laughing in the end. Just goes to show you, really... there's no such thing as a shortcut to a championship. You need to play terrible basketball for enough seasons in a row to luck your way into a franchise-changing superstar, potentially playing poorly enough that you alienate one of the NBA's best fanbases and force your team to move to a different location where the team will blossom into a perennial contender and cast the ire of the fanbase scorned, strengthening the resolve of the players that had little to no control over the move in general! That's how you get a ring in the NBA, not with this "free agency" stuff. Because if LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are "free" to "agent" for the Miami Heat, they're also "free" to "not-agent." And this is clearly -- CLEARLY -- what they have chosen to do. Good luck getting past the Eastern Conference Finals without your stars, Miami!

... wait, the Knicks are the 2nd best team in the east? OK, maybe they'll still get past the ECF. STILL THOUGH.

Continue reading

Missives from the Thunderdome #1: Three Weird Guys, One Weird Game

tiago get that oil

Hey, folks. In our stable of rippling thoroughbred writers, we've managed to accumulate four writers whose names begin with "A." It's hard to fashion a feature out of the first letter of someone's name, though. We've also managed to accumulate two San Antonio Spurs fans and one Oklahoma City Thunder fan. Fitting with that, after every Thunder/Spurs game for the rest of eternity, the powers that be at Gothic Ginobili ... er, me ... will throw our three SAS/OKC rooting authors in the sarlaac pit to talk about the game and the matchup, all while being slowly digested by the most confusing creature George Lucas ever imagined. Today's broader topic: the April 4th, 2013 matchup in the Oklahoma City Thunderdome.

First question isn't a question. It's just a quote and a statement. "Home-court advantage mattered more last year because the Spurs were on a 20-game win streak." That was an actual thing Reggie Miller said on live television. No moral.

Alex Dewey: I agree with that. It makes perfect sense to me.

Jacob Harmon: What is he even saying there?

Alex Dewey: Oh, wait. Hold on. I'm that guy from Memento, I forgot.

Aaron McGuire: I have absolutely no idea. I mostly just noted it down it so we could gawk at it. What could he possibly be saying? What could that possibly mean?

Jacob Harmon: Who did it matter more to? The Spurs? The Thunder? I... I don't know.

Aaron McGuire: Is it... like... "the Spurs were on a 20 game winning streak therefore home court was... less important... because... they were 20-0 in the streak, and they won everywhere. The Thunder didn't care about home court advantage because the Spurs were 20-0 during the streak but 0-4 afterwards. Professional analyst, Reggie Miller, reporting for duty."

Jacob Harmon: Did you hear him say "Tim Duncan looking for the foul on the block by Tim Duncan"? Reggie's observations come from a place outside time and space, man.

Aaron McGuire: Fair.

Alex Dewey: Look, Aaron. You're being such a jerk about this. I'll have you know, Reggie was using an advanced maximum likelihood estimator with some factor analysis. He reasoned backwards from the 20-game winning streak and noticed that 10 of those came in the playoffs and 10 came in the regular season, therefore, home court was not the dominant factor in the Spurs winning streak.

Aaron McGuire: Haha, look at Dewey, with his nerd-rat pocket square statistics.

Alex Dewey: Real talk, though -- was Reggie Miller smoking a tailpipe blunt filled with neurotoxins on-air?

Aaron McGuire: That seems unlikely. Anyway, one last thing that has to be noted before we stop talking about Reggie. "MOMMY HAS SOMETHING FOR DADDY TO DO" has to rank among the worst dunk calls in the history of the sport, doesn't it? It just... it didn't make sense in the moment, and even afterwards, there was a lot of innuendo and sketchiness in that commercial in general.

Jacob Harmon: I felt the gutter thing was really meta. The innuendo is that this kid's mom is about to take Kevin Durant to town, then it turns out she just wants him to do chores. But he's cleaning the gutters, the implication being that the viewer's head is in the gutter for thinking that there was a sexual connotation to the "mommy has something for daddy to do" line. Was this obvious, or am I a genius?

Aaron McGuire: I thought something roughly similar when I first saw the commercial, but I never stated it as eloquently. Respect. Still, I'm struggling to think of any dunk calls that would be worse than that in terms of being creepy and out of place. Best I can think of are some don't-you-dare ones, like "BOOM GOES THE BOMB" in OKC or "THE JET PLANE HAS CRASHED INTO THE BUILDING" if Jason Terry hits a game-winning three in New York. Just these horribly offensive wastes of nature. That's how that dunk call struck me, albeit in a much less offensive-to-my-core-nature way. Come on, Reggie. Pull it together. Anyway. NEXT QUESTION, FOLKS. Continue reading

An Introduction to Fallout: Phil Vegas

fallout phil vegas

This part of the NBA season sucks.

No, really. It's awful. For the fans, players, media... everyone. Beat up and burnt out NBA teams with little left to play for don't make good television. They don't make compelling analysis, either -- at this point, most teams have cast their gaze to the barren playoffs, lying in wait as the games that REALLY matter beckon them forward. Players rest, teams tank, and the NBA product becomes trite and uninteresting.

Of course, this isn't news. People have known about the NBA's general March miasma for a while. Here at Gothic Ginobili, we've been lagging a bit. Partly due to our writers being astonishingly busy, partly due to the general lag in the NBA lately. I've always been a strong advocate of the idea that you should fix a period of lagging content and lacking inspiration by going completely off the wall and trying the weirdest idea that comes into your head. After all, I hired Dewey. So I took a few ideas into the back shed and came up with what I believe to be one of the alternatingly worst/best ideas I've ever scribed. Please join me in extending a warm welcome to GG's newest feature -- Fallout: Phil Vegas. Continue reading

The Anatomy of a Dream's Demise

goodnight mavs

Last night's contest between the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers pitted against one another two disappointing teams fighting for their rapidly fading dreams. On one side, you had L.A.'s wayward title aspirants -- once ballyhooed as the greatest collection of talent since the 1996 Chicago Bulls, the end result seems to have erred on the side of the 2011 Boston Red Sox. Lots of glitter, lack of grit. Lots of glamor, lack of glory. Et cetera, et cetera. The Lakers entered the season with a singular dream: that of a dominant title-winning season, coupling a return to glory for Kobe and Pau with a late-career sparkle for Steve Nash and the first of many for their mercurial center.

Now, of course, they're scrambling to make the playoffs.

As for the Mavericks? Dominance was never in the cards for this Dallas team. They started the season without their centerpiece and featured a cobbled together roster of ancients and refuse, one of the greatest challenges of Carlisle's career as a coach. The goal wasn't a title, even if that would've been wonderful. The goal was to keep an even keel and show the world that the Mavericks don't back down. The goal was a playoff team. And not just that, perhaps, but a strong one that pushes a higher seed and provides the basis for Dirk's future. The tertiary lights behind a future title team. Home court? Inconceivable. But stealing home court? Perceptible, with Dirk's quintessence and possible throwback years from the likes of Carter, Brand, and Marion.

Alas, it was not to be. The Mavericks entered the year without Dirk Nowitzki, which wasn't their death knell; all things considered, their opening schedule was astonishingly easy and gave them the chance to tread water. And they did tread, standing at a respectable 7-9 at the dawn of December. Originally, we thought Dirk would be back then. A return just as the schedule started to get rough. But that didn't happen. Dirk's rehab took just a few weeks too long, and his original on-court manifestation was balky at best and depressing at worst. The Mavericks were 12-15 when Dirk returned, but Dirk wasn't quite Dirk yet -- he returned to the court in a 38-point loss to his team's bitter rivals, and the Mavericks lost 8 of the first 9 games Dirk played in. Thirteen wins to twenty three losses. Ten games under 0.500 -- it was a dismal record, one that Dirk Nowitzki had never seen before this season. The dream appeared to be dead. The playoffs were a distant, bitter memory in a season gone completely awry.

But a funny thing happened on the way to obsolescence. The Mavericks -- those downtrodden, downbeat Mavericks -- finally began to win again. It was slow at first. An overtime win against the Kings, a four game streak, a three game streak. Nothing world-breaking, nothing astonishing. In a season of 15-game win streaks and 55 win five seeds, nothing that moved the radar. But, life support or not, the dream wasn't quite dead yet. All of the sudden, after going ten games under 0.500, the Mavericks were 22-13... with four heartbreaking losses by 3 points or less in the stretch. They were virtually tied for the 9-spot. They were knocking at the door. Dirk was magnificent, although the team had no idea how to get him the ball. The defense was shaky, but Marion and Brand did just enough to pull out the wins. Players were in-and-out, but Carlisle was putting together a rotation again. The door was open, and in one fateful night, they had the opportunity to wrest it ajar and pronounce their arrival to the world.

The final margin -- that grisly 20-point margin -- looks rough. But it wasn't quite as rough as one would think. This wasn't a laugher. It goes down in the record books as a 20-point blowout, and the Mavericks season may go down in the record books as a generally awful sub-0.500 affair. But that understates the torment for the fans and the team and the general public. This uneven, unlucky season was much more painful than a garden variety blowout.

Consider the turn of events that decided the game. With 4:20 left to play, the Mavericks were within 7 points. Dirk Nowitzki had just entered the game, and Dwight Howard was headed to the line. And Dwight missed both! But Earl Clark, everyone's least likely Laker mainstay at the start of the season, corralled the offensive rebound and dished to Pau Gasol for an easy two. Suddenly, it was a ten point game. Carlisle drew up a play for a Nowitzki three. Clank. The Mavericks foul Dwight Howard, praying for the seemingly inevitable misses. He makes 1-of-2, but Dirk misses another three. Another Howard foul, which is again the right move -- probabilistically, Howard should miss 1-of-2, and it should remain a game. But he doesn't give away the points -- this time he makes them both. The Mavericks rush their next possession and end it with an awkward Vince Carter two. Clank. Another Howard foul, another 2-for-2 trip. Nowitzki gets fouled himself, but probability mocks these Mavericks -- Dirk goes 0-for-2, as Howard makes another 1-for-2 on the next possession. And then, to cap things off, Kobe Bryant drains a pretty two pointer with 1:46 left to play. The once-surmountable lead is now 19 points strong, and the game is over.

There will be no miracles. There will be no comebacks. These merry, plucky, bearded Mavericks trudge to the bench as Sacre, Dentmon, and Morrow take the court to play out the string. And as a proud Dirk Nowitzki and the remnants of one of the league's most impressive champions watch their season slip away in a single game, everyone's left wondering what might have been. Without Dirk's injury, do these Mavericks -- they of a 22-14 record with a healthy Dirk, I might remind -- challenge for the 5 seed? These Mavericks were beset by bad luck from the get-go, and over the course of the season, they've lost a startling 12 games by five points or less. For comparison, Golden State lost only 4 such games. Houston? Only 7. Sometimes, the chips don't fall. You don't hit your straight. You're one roll short.

On a warm spring night in the City of Angels, two dreams met on the field of battle. One left bolstered -- the other, defeated. The Los Angeles Lakers still have their unlikely title shot -- their flagging, fading, sputtering title shot. It's a shadow of expectations, certainly, but the expectations were too high to begin with. They've come accustomed to their new reality, and they're persevering in the face of adversity. But they're also one more thing, perhaps more important than anything else. They're lucky, once again.

The Mavericks are not. And as we bid adieu to the 2013 Dallas Mavericks, we happen upon their eulogy.

"You were alright, but you just weren't lucky."

The Jefferson Play, Part I: Negotiation Breakdown

richard jefferson last laugh

The following story is entirely fictional. Any resemblance to persons or situations real or fake is entirely coincidental, and entirely awesome.

Fumbling an ice tray to the ground in the Warriors' break room, the thought struck me: Richard Jefferson must have been frustrated. As Richard is most interesting when frustrated, and as I have an uncanny gift for frustrating him, I smelled opportunity. I unexpectedly tapped Richard on the shoulder with my ice-cold hands and asked (in a deliberately annoying, lilting inflection) "How are you today, R-Jay?"

Though startled, Richard's response immediately convinced me that the end of days was at hand. The first thing I noticed was that Richard's eyes had a cartoonish glint to them, and even his teeth and nails seemed whiter. His skin was childish and immaculate as always, punctuated only by the occasional bump on the noggin received in the course of things. But today there were not even bumps, there were not even doubts: Richard exuded an uncharacteristic confidence as he turned to face me, wiped the proverbial dirt off his shoulder, and drowned out all the haters of the world. To my shock, there was even enthusiasm in his voice as he began one of his stream-of-entirely-reasonable-consciousness rants. "I'm actually doing just fine, John. How are you doing? How are your studies. You are an adolescent, and you know, that means that you must study in school much of the day. I hope you are learning things of import. I was a youngster, too, back in the Reagan Administration..." Jefferson trailed off amicably and smiled with the glee of precisely-aimed self-deprecation that nevertheless left him potent and confident.

I felt like the Grinch when Whoville didn't get all pissed off after someone stole their bikes.

"Why are you okay, RJ? You messed up with the ice tray and then I startled you with my hand. That's not right, RJ."

Richard kept at it. "Haha, whoa, John. You sound mad! Just a little bit, but I can taste it. 'U mad, bro?' I think that, you know, that's what the kids are saying these days, heh."

"Frig." I said clumsily, before receding my eyes at the seemingly reversed roles. I was mad, I thought. I am a basketball journalist that oozes confidence (my holy mantra being "smooth, suave, and sophisticated"), and I have watched Richard with fastidious amusement for four years of his absurdly reasonable demeanor while he unfortunately attempts to play a sport. And now, for once, he is unequivocally happy, and all I can do is stumble over my words in bafflement. So I tried to get an explanation. "I mean, what happened, Richard, did you get an extension? Did Mark Jackson say you were starting? Or maybe not playing at all? I'm never sure what you actually want, heh. Did, like, you find out you're a prodigy at a sport that you're *not* declining at? Did you get three 50-50 balls in a row for the first time in your life? Are you in love?" I asked everything I could think of, each one strangely insulting in its own way.

Richard laughed at all of these suggestions. "No, no, no, and no. None of that happened. You know, I'm still a pretty bad basketball player, all considering," Richard shrugged, still with confidence, "and I'm too reasonable to try other sports that might find me injured, and hence nullify my contract. I mean, definitely I'm still on the downswing. I didn't win any 50-50 balls ("Not even one, Richard?" I thought better than to interject), and I'm not in love. I'm not starting but I will be playing, but not much. Just like before. But," and Richard smiled once again, "I did have quite the recent experience."

"What in God's name happened, Richard? What in God's green Earth happened to provoke this? You know as well as I do that you should not be so happy." and Richard averred this with a shrug.

"Do you really want to know?" Richard asked with an amused look of genuine curiosity. "I mean, I'm not even a front-page player anymore. I won't really get any hits for your blog."

"RJ, I know nothing about what this story is but I will publish it, live, in real time. Just tell me. Please," I begged pathetically, somewhat to my own surprise. Like a dog, I recalled from Kafka.

"Are you sure?" and now Richard Jefferson was mocking me and I wasn't sure how to respond, except to note from the tenor of his voice the only possible explanation.

"Richard Jefferson, did you win at something, finally?"

At this Richard smiled silently.

"You might say that, John," and he began to tell the story. Continue reading

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