Draftial Chaos Theory: Dan's Choice

2013 NBA Draft Lottery

A few months ago, prior to the trade deadline, I wrote a piece entitled Josh Smithial Chaos Theory based on an episode of NBC's Community. The episode "Remedial Chaos Theory" sees a group of seven friends forced to decide who is going to pick up the pizza they ordered, thanks to a broken buzzer. The groups de facto leader, Jeff, determines that the fairest way is to roll a die to decide who goes. Of course, the die has six sides, and there are seven people. Jeff rigged the game so that he'd never lose. Right as Jeff is about to roll the die, the group's pop-culture maniac notes that by rolling the die, the group is creating six different timelines, all of which are later shown in the episode, with various degrees of shenanigans ensuing each time.

Last night was draft night, and the Cleveland Cavaliers stood to make a choice.  Chris Grant and Dan Gilbert seemed  to have no idea who they should draft with their first pick. Every player has their pros and cons. Unable to find a draft day trade they'd like, they enter the Barclays Center. Soon afterwards, they hear David Stern speak the now-dreaded words. "Cleveland is on the clock." As minutes tick away, they scramble to find a solution, and eventually, not being able to find the right answer, they turn to their ultimate good luck charm, Dan's son, the awesome Nick Gilbert. Nick pulls a die out of his pocket, along with a list of six names the Cavs could draft. Dan nods and rolls the die. The universe is giddy at the thought of six different timelines being created.

Disclaimer: Adam is not a draft analyst. He's just a blogger. Do not treat this as draft analysis. DO NOT.

Timeline 1: Cleveland selects Alex Len

Dan Gilbert sighs with relief. At least he got a big guy. He wouldn't go against luck, not after winning two draft lotteries, anyway. And so, Alex Len becomes the first Ukrainian born player to be drafted first overall. Hooray! Nobody in Kiev or Lviv really cares, though, since they're busy fighting off an semi-autocratic regime.

Len immediately contributes as a pick and roll player, working very well with Kyrie Irving and finally leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to the playoffs. The problem? They're the 8th seed. LeBron doesn't care about the boos, as the Cavs are swept away. After the series, a disappointed Len bashes James, saying that him leaving Cleveland was dishonourable and that it would never fly in the Ukraine. In response, an agitated James tells Dan Gilbert that he's not coming back to Cleveland unless Len is gone. This immediately leaks and Cleveland is unable to find a good trade for Len, as the other teams recognize the desperation of the move. Eventually, Len is sold for two second rounders to Houston, as Daryl Morey laughs manically. LeBron doesn't come to Cleveland anyway, announcing that he's keeping his talents in South Beach. Irving eventually leaves as well, disappointed with the way the front office handled his time there. Dan Gilbert, meanwhile, suffers a panic attack anytime he sees a die.

Timeline 2: Cleveland selects Nerlens Noel

Dan Gilbert sighs. Another year of tanking, as Noel's ACL isn't ready for play, at all. The Cavs have an extremely mediocre season, ending up with the 10th spot in the lottery... Lo and behold, they win it, and follow it up by drafting Andrew Wiggins. LeBron James signs with them in the offseason, and the 2014-15 Cavs obliterate the league on the way to their first franchise championship. The happy riot after the win is so huge, however, that the city is utterly destroyed, forcing the Cavs to relocate to Seattle.

Cleveland never gets another NBA team.

Timeline 3: Cleveland selects Victor Oladipo

Dan Gilbert sighs. They didn't need a wing, but once again, Dan Gilbert is hardly one to go against fate. Oladipo is apparently either the next Tony Allen or the next Dwyane Wade. Whatever the case, on twitter, a war between Conrad Kaczmarek and Matt Moore erupts over whether Oladipo should play over Dion Waiters, continuing throughout the season, dividing all of basketball twitter. As they play alongside each other. Cleveland barely makes the playoffs and gets ousted by Miami. LeBron James signs with Cleveland, intensifying the twitter war over who the wings should be. Nobody even notices that Mike Brown played all three along each other, with LeBron at the 4. The war eventually destroys "basketball twitter" as Cleveland wins the title. Since all Cavs fans were too consumed with fighting each other, there is no riot, only an empty arena. Adam Silver is still booed by the empty seats, though.

Timeline 4: Cleveland selects Ben McLemore

Very similar to the Victor Oladipo timeline, but McLemore is immediately recognized as an excellent complement to Irving and Waiters. He puts up one of the best rookie three point shooting seasons ever, cementing his reputation as the next Ray Allen. This time, though, due to a butterfly effect LeBron James decides not to sign with Cleveland after ousting them from the playoffs, staying in Miami. This leads the Kyrie Irving Cavaliers to a rehash of the early 90s, as the hyper-talented Mark Price Cavaliers were constantly ousted by Jordan at various stages of his power. These Cavaliers are ousted by Miami at various stages of LeBron's power for several years, eventually leading to a disappointed Kyrie Irving's sad departure.

Timeline 5: Cleveland selects Rudy Gobert

Rudy Gobert? What? For reasons passing understanding, Nick Gilbert wrote the super-tall Frenchman's name down on his sheet. Dan Gilbert panics, trying desperately to act against fate, but even as he tries to write down "Alex Len" on the card submitted to the league office the ink smudges and Gobert's name still appears. After a rant for the ages, Conrad Kaczmarek quits twitter and becomes a Boston College blogger full-time. Cleveland has a nightmarish season, with Gobert quickly becoming the all-time laughing stock of the league's rogues gallery of failed #1 picks. Shades of Kwame Brown, perhaps. Even though they're in line for another first overall pick, fate doesn't respond kindly to Dan Gilbert's attempts to cheat it. Cleveland ends up at #4, the lowest possible draft position, and Chris Grant gets a bit too cute and drafts Przemek Karnowski. The reason? Unfathomable, even to him. Karnowski busts similarly to Gobert. Kyrie Irving demands a trade in a furious angry rage, and the team's beleaguered owner inexplicably decides to grant his request. Gilbert trades Irving to Houston for Daryl Morey's loose change, and moments later, sells the Cavaliers to Chris Hansen. And we all know how that ends. Hansen moves them to Seattle immediately. Cleveland gets an expansion team to soothe their pain, but it never wins a championship, the city's dreams shattered by close calls year by year. Dan Gilbert, meanwhile, ends up in a mental institution for the rest of his life, haunted by even the passing mention of dice.

Timeline 6: Cleveland selects Otto Porter

Otto Porter turns out to be a perfect pick for Cleveland, getting them to the 4th seed in their first year. After a second round upset of Miami, the Cavs cruise to the Finals, where they're beaten in seven games by a strong Thunder side. LeBron doesn't want to join the side that beat him, leading to a back-and-forth Eastern Conference Finals rivalry between the Heat and the Cavs that lasts for the better part of the decade. The East is finally interesting! Impossible? Not in this timeline! The fun ends only after LeBron retires at age 42, leaving lifetime Cavalier Kyrie Irving to rule in his prime as the sole proprietor of the East. (Along with his sidekick Otto, of course.)

Timeline... 7?

The die is stuck on it's side, as the two Gilberts and Chris Grant stare at it blankly. What does it mean? They should probably make their own choice, right? The clock runs out, and just as Stern is about to announce the Cavaliers have ceded the #1 pick to Orlando, they send their pick to the presses. It's a lock. After all the drama, the hand-wringing, and the confusion? The Cavaliers have chosen Anthony Bennett, the board-hungry Canadian straight out of Las Vegas. How does this timeline end for Cleveland, then? Of all possible worlds, is it the best? The worst? The bratwurst?

As luck would have it, that one's ours.

So I suppose we'll just have to wait and see, won't we?

A Case of the Small Market Shakes: Kevin Durant Signs with Jay-Z

durant and jay z

The NBA Finals have come and gone. I haven’t had much to say about how they played out since Game 7, and it’s probably best for all of us if I keep it that way. However, if you’re really curious, it’s accurate to say that the fan in me was displeased. Yet here we are! The wounds remain but the hardship is momentarily over for those of us whose teams were not destined for golden glory. It’s that most wonderful time of year, the off-season! Soaring hopes! Speculation! High crests of cheering excitement and cavernous voids of crushing disappointment. Hey, come to think of it, it’s actually exactly the same NBA fan experience one endures the rest of the year... only with front office dudes in suits rubbing their foreheads instead of sick dunks.

Huh.

Well, here we are. We’re only a brief time away from draft night, and we’ve already seen some intriguing trade developments regarding picks and coaching staffs. But those topics are complex, and deserving of their own posts. Here I’m going to stick to a subject you probably stopped caring about two weeks ago, if you even cared in the first place: Kevin Durant’s signing with Jay Z's Roc-Nation.

Should we be concerned that Kevin Durant chose to change agents? Should Oklahoma City fans be quivering in small market inadequacy at creeping thoughts of the star fleeing for the bright lights of one of the coasts? If all that sounds kind of silly, it’s because it is. (It's also because I’m laying it on pretty thick.) Despite this story breaking amidst one of the most exciting NBA Finals in recent memory, the questions it apparently raised in the minds of both Thunder fans and the larger public have gained a surprising amount of traction. Why would small-market hero Kevin Durant abandon Rob Pelinka and join the unproven glitz of Roc-Nation representation? What does this mean for Durant’s future in Oklahoma City? The answers may surprise you.

• • •

First, I don’t think anyone should be shocked Durant decided to seek new representation. People who track these sorts of things have noted that in this past season, KD had more nationally televised ad appearances than any other NBA player. I’m willing to take that claim at face value; I’ve seen that Sprint commercial with the shrunken up PJs and watched KD ride a bicycle real fast in a dorky helmet enough times that I see them on the back of my eyelids when I go to sleep. Plenty of people defending Rob Pelinka’s representation have used Durant’s high number of appearances to argue that KD should be more than happy with his current situation, and has no reason to leap to an unproven partner like Jay-Z. (Related note: there’s a surprisingly large contingent of online commentators with deep-seated investment in the success of high-profile sports agents. Who knew?)

I think the idea that Durant "should be happy" requires a little critical examination. What commercials do you remember seeing Durant in this season? There are the ones I mentioned, with the pajamas (by far the family favorite), and there’s the disappointingly un-prescient Gatorade ad with Wade. There’s that one BBVA one where he spends much of his time in background while the camera’s attention stays firmly focused on some guy that looks like Gary from FX’s Justified. There’s the one where he rides the bicycle. Supposedly there’s the “KD is not nice” advertisement, but I’ve never seen that air once on television and wouldn’t know it existed were it not for YouTube.

Now, compare these campaigns and appearances with Chris Paul’s “Cliff Paul” line. That campaign was EVERYWHERE. It had charm and creativity; it featured Chris Paul foremost in a quirky situation. It had an alter-ego (a classic staple of any advertisement using an NBA player). It was played out in gags at nationally televised games, in social media, and achieved the kind of crossover appeal you only see from really catchy campaigns. My grandmother hasn’t watched an NBA game in her life and barely knows who Michael Jordan is. She still asked me about Chris Paul after being charmed by those ads.

How about Adidas’ campaign for Derrick Rose? You know, The Return? Hashtags on hashtags? That guy didn’t even end up returning, and it was STILL one of the most successful and culturally successful campaigns pitched in a long while. Appropriate for a dominant Bulls star, it went beyond simple cutesiness or sight gags, aiming instead for myth-making. The melodrama and production of it all was evocative of classic Jordan ads, a throwback to a time not-so-long-ago when a players’ brand and advertisements were carefully cultivated to establish fantastical mythology of the highest order. It was the kind of ad not interested in marketing Derrick Rose, the player you haven’t seen in a while here to tell you about his new shoe, but instead in marketing D-Rose, injured warrior training through the void of night in a darkened gym, obsessively striving to rescue a city plunged into stasis by his tragic undoing. He wears cool shoes while he does it, but it’s beside the point.

Both these are examples of classic advertisement choices made by Paul and Rose’ management respectively. Creative Arts Agency made Chris Paul a family name. BJ Armstrong made Derrick Rose (at least temporarily) more myth than man. Rob Pelinka made Kevin Durant that guy the dad in the Sprint commercial turns into, where the pajamas don’t fit? Shocking that he might think Jay-Z could have a fresh strategy for his career. Simply shocking. Of course, then there’s that other nagging question, made more real for Oklahoma City fans and small markets everywhere by the possibility that Jay-Z will succeed in expanding Durant’s exposure and personal brand: what if this means Kevin Durant will leave Oklahoma City?

Maybe he does. But anyone panicking about it should remember he’s not a free agent, and has multiple years left on his contract. Between now and then, who knows what could happen? Maybe Oklahoma City seals a championship, propelling both the team and Durant’s career to new heights, and the idea of him leaving becomes preposterous. Or maybe the team has imploded after seasons of missed opportunities, injuries, poor front office decisions, and Durant’s decision to leave is entirely understandable. There's simply no way to peer into our crystal balls and divine what the future will hold for the Thunder or for Kevin Durant’s best interest, we can only exist in the now.

So here’s what the now is: Kevin Durant chose a partnership with a successful businessman who he both holds in high personal esteem and recognizes as skilled in cultivating a successful personal brand. He likely recognized that while Jay-Z the agent is “unproven,” Roc-Nation the agency is not, being nothing more than a new component and brand of Creative Arts Agency. I mentioned them earlier as being the representation for Chris Paul, but they also are responsible for players like Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Tony Parker, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Michael-Kidd Gilchrist, and others. Successful players all, they occupy small and big markets alike. What Kevin Durant made was a rational business decision, nothing more. Anyone having a case of the small-market shakies shouldn’t lose sleep over it. After all, Wade probably won't even get the chance to block us.

Humor and Pain -- A Farewell to the 2013 Spurs

If Alex Dewey stepped on an NBA court, Kenyon Martin would say this. (Thanks to Trey Kerby of TBJ for the pic.)

Both in writing and in person, I make a lot of self-deprecating comedy. That's just how I frame my existence. I could give you an example, but I accidentally screwed up my computer by banging my elbow against it. While slipping on a banana peel nearby. This actually just happened. I'm typing on my phone, really slowly. The ambulances will be here shortly. But that's not gonna help anything. Because nothing can help me. Look, I already dropped my phone. Aw, frig. It's broken too. Aaron publish this piece immediat--

Look, I'm just fine. None of the previous paragraph actually happened. Still, while I'm sure someone was disturbed by that last paragraph, I was enjoying it. Because I just never win, and others need to know about it. No matter how close I get, at the moment of truth even my noblest endeavor is stymied. Every time I think of a joke it turns out Rodney Dangerfield beat me to the punch. In 1935. But I can laugh about it. My mom came up to visit and declared my apartment uninhabitable and proceeded to clean for 10 minutes and got it cleaner than it had been since I'd moved in. I was so happy but I couldn't figure out the words to thank her. So I settled for "Happy Mother's Day." [Ed. Note: Now I understand why Dewey tells me "Happy Editor's Day" every time I edit his pieces...]

See, folks, I can laugh about my foibles because I have so many of them. I laugh at my foibles the way others laugh at my hair follicles - because a) there's so many of them, b) they're so unbefitting, and c) I screwed up trying to condition them. Heh. See what I mean? You have to shut me up or I'll go on like that forever. I'm sorry. I'm like one of those old Energizer Bunnies, except I never have any energy and when I'm tired I annoy the crap out of anyone I interact with using my inscrutable stream of consciousness ramblings and an abjectly terrible sense of humor. I'm always tired, so this is my always: this is my basic condition upon the Earth. Started at the bottom now I'm here. Which is not much improved, I'll just say, and the food's just a little better. I write a hundred sprawling essays on every minor indignity that visits me, and I do so with a smile on my face.

 • • •

Look, I'm not going to argue that the Spurs couldn't win solely because I was rooting for them, in some cosmic comedic sense. Yes, that thought flashed across my mind as the Spurs began their inbound to Kawhi with about a minute left. That would be silly and irresponsible. There's no way I was solely cosmically responsible. Surely something called chance intervened and made futile the Spurs' best efforts, and then, when the tide in the affairs of Spurs had receded, the Heat took advantage of the confusion and fled with their trophy. Surely it wasn't entirely my fault, in a cosmic sense. Surely my reverse-jinxes and postgame comments (meant to be classy, but probably just came off as irritating like everything else I do) were innocuous. Surely I wasn't literally affecting events in Miami with my own magic gift to make everything I touch break down or suck. But to be honest, the only reason I don't think I affected the outcome is that I can barely get my phone to work.

I've said it before: As Micky Arison spoke after Game 7 at the podium, I was regurgitating my dinner and dry heaving through tears. I like to think that this was a reflection upon Arison (whose name is making me wretch from conditioning to type). But it's probably a reflection upon sadness. Sadness for the fallen Spurs. I don't think I've been that sad in a pretty long while, because I'm not that emotional, except when I'm trying desperately to rationalize my most recent mistake. Maybe it was just that the curry I'd made was not very good. But I went to sleep, said probably a hundred times on cyberspace and meatspace how it was "Just how the ball bounces. Congratulations to the Miami Heat." and then I went home and watched "The Tree of Life" and played "Simple Twist of Fate" a hundred times, huddled beside a blanket.

Everything happens to me. Poor me. Well, okay, it's closer to "I happen to everyone I come into contact with. Poor them." The Spurs had a perfect chance to seal the deal and even then I couldn't accept it. Like a neurotic I said outright "This game is far from over" on Twitter when the Heat were down 5. When Ray Allen hit that 3 there was a delay emotionally because I kind of expected something like this to happen, to me, again. I couldn't just be crushed, I had to lose hope right when things were most probable, right before there was any reason to lose hope. I said I was really happy with the quality of play this series, and I meant it. But then, I also hid the part where the Spurs losing the best series I'd ever seen would be totally crushing. Put yourselves in their positions: The Spurs had done everything right up to that point, for a freaking decade. They'd rested their starters, developed their shooters, developed a system on both ends and made the best player in the world seem for about 240 minutes like a relative non-factor on the backs of smart acquisitions and brilliant trades and brilliant coaching. Tim Duncan has deferred and asserted, deferred and asserted, done everything he needs to do, and now they just need to close the last few seconds of, again, a decade of hard work.

And then it doesn't materialize and the Spurs are goats. "And then, Ray Allen. And then, LeBron James." The only way to deal with that is as the punchline to a joke. The Spurs were made to feel they already had the trophy. But 25 seconds took what was in sight, and then another 53 finally brought to logical conclusion an existing fact - the Heat were not better, but they were getting bounces, and suddenly, those bounces were starting to chain together into some sort of unstoppable dribble machine, and LeBron simply took the reins, took care of business, and here we are.

 • • •

I've never had a lot of self-confidence. Usually, I don't lack for self-confidence, either. I'm basically average. But I'm pretty introspective, probably to a fault. Take it all together, add a sense of humor, and I'm someone that can accurately see the foibles of everyone I interact with, internalize them, and move on with an innocuous laugh. And I can see my own foibles, and I can look more deeply and see my own failures that underlie them. Just to name a couple: chronic underachievement, prodigal talent constantly wasted in a mire of disorganization and flighty attentions. I see my own unstructured life with comedy and look deeper and see a life littered with the memories of pain that make this structure more difficult. I see the people I love returning to me after an adolescence where they had to leave me because I was sort of pushed aside by the world and relationships that have always been bigger than me. I see a decade in which it's been all development and scrutiny for me, and yet, at the end of it all, I feel (probably falsely) that most people like me but no one really understands me. [Ed. Note: Except for me, his Virginia-bound brain double.]

And my favorite team lost after four years and roughly 260 games watched. And it wasn't just the games I watched - I wrote dozens of articles, along the way learning whatever I could about all of the players, the system, the league in which they were positioned, the subtle stories that a simple trip down the SI Vault might miss. The Spurs lost after four years of my intense attention when they had a 1.5% chance to lose. Lost after they had the sea of probability practically parted for them. The Spurs were a historically elite team this postseason, outplayed and outscored the Heat (at one point for 4 out of 6 games (this is supposed to be a great team itself)), and yet, the Heat saw that sliver of uncertainty, slipped in at the single highest-leverage moment, and attacked, and won. Won like I knew they would, even when it was 98.5%. Won because that's what I'm accustomed to. Won because I don't know how I'd be if I ever won at anything. And so I'm in a dark apartment eating Greek yogurt and watching existential films and listening to "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" and writing it all down.

And all of this is funny to me, as well it should be. I know it to be the case, because I've never been one for sob stories or wallowing in pain for very long. That's just not my nature. I've got the mindset of a coach, in a lot of ways, and I do remember things for a long time. So I suppose the Duncan bunny will weigh upon me for a long time. But in the end I'm far more neurotic about the immediate past and the immediate future. What everyone else may call the pain of a decade I call a minor setback and frustration. What others call a chip on my shoulder I only call another thing I have to freaking carry. No, whatever pain you want to ascribe to me only weighs upon me in dreams and in bank deposits. And I'm awake right now. So I suppose I'll be alright. I've already written one sprawling essay about this subject, and surely that will be the end of the story for me.

But I sure wish the Spurs had won.

Deconstructing Fandom: Digging Deep and the Damage Done

Miami's message to San Antonio near the end of Game #6.

Sportswriters are a fickle bunch. We hoot and holler about elevating the game in poetry and prose. We laugh off cracker-jack cliches and pooh-pooh fortune cookie analysts. "Take this away, Alfred!" we say, to our pet goldfish named Alfred who isn't nearly as anthromorphic as this phrasing suggests. "We cannot have this! We are men of intellect, poise, and guile! Bring me the Hammer Play! Bring me the Longform! Away with this pablum, away with the cookie-cutter phrasing, begone!" But in moments of utmost confusion and despair, we realize something. Sometimes, there's little more to say. Sometimes, the cliches of the world are all we have left.

And so, my single thought on Tuesday evening's thriller: Sometimes, you have to dig deep.

You know the drill. You wake up in the morning and you just don't have it. Whatever it is, you simply don't have it. Me, I'm a professional statistician. If I have one of those dead days, and I can't dig deep? It's alright. It's OK. I'll struggle through the day and work twice as hard the next. Deadlines are deadlines, and I'm not stupid enough to pretend I've never missed one. But I've yet to miss one simply because I didn't try hard enough. I may not be able to dig deep every one of those days, but I sure as hell try my best.

I don't envy the task of the world's best -- firefighters, doctors, lifeguards, soldiers, pilots. If they don't dig deep, on the wrong day? If they have one of those days where they just can't hack it? People could die. In that context, it's often hard to feel much in the way of sympathy for the sports team that couldn't hack it. After all. Nobody dies if their favorite team loses the finals. One fanbase rejoices, the other laments. What's at stake? One loss. One win. History and infamy. The lore of the sport and the hearts of fans. In a refreshing twist to the miasma of everyday life, when it comes to sports, the winner and the loser is always brutally clear. There is no tie, in the highest reaches of sport. There is a winner and there is a loser. And there is never doubt.

On Tuesday, Miami dug deep.

• • •

For many devotees of sport, their favorite team's true legacy isn't measured solely in the beck-and-call of the team's accomplishment. The public accomplishments are one thing. The personal accomplishments are quite another. To many, there's a complex interplay between the fan and the team, a strange symbiotic relationship that lends sport meaning and lends sport feeling. What's a title to you if the you didn't have to sweat it to get there? What games did you see? How did the team impact you? Did you ever take a sick day just to watch your team? Did you ever feel the sweat glaze your brow as you collapsed into nervousness and succumbed to sport's whimsy? Did your favorite sport make you feel? Scream, gasp, cringe, shiver? Have you ever? Do you even lift, bro?

Ahem. Sorry. The main point is thus. Sports is a beautiful, all-encompassing distraction. That's what it is. A distraction. It's a distraction that gobbles the fan up and turns madmen out of empiricists. It turns statisticians to superstitions. It makes the strong tremble and the weak holler. It lends a screeching barroom baritone to otherwise mild-mannered folk.

We can talk all we want about what a fan "should" be -- but that's bunk. At their core, a sports fan is an individual who contracts out a bit of room in their heart with the hope for comparative greatness. Some fans put in little, switching from teams for a short smiling burst in between an accomplished life. They wave their fandom's flag one or two days a year, letting it fade to the back of their mind. If the team wins, they get to smile and call them "their guys." If their team loses, they feel little pain. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. In many ways, I envy the individual who can separate themselves from the proceedings. That's their way of enjoying things, and more power to them for it. It's just one of the many ways to be a fan.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have those who toil in their love for their team behind struggling institutions and hope that someday their luckless warriors will pay their loyalty back with a miracle season and a promise upheld. You have the ones who sweat every game and tear out their hair and stress about minutiae for hours and hours each and every week. You have, in short, the diehards. And that's me, too. What is sports, to this fan, if it isn't the hope for resplendent victory couched in overreaction and despair? We cannot allow visceral emotion to control us in our everyday lives. We can't go sobbing when a politician screws up their promises, we can't go screaming fecklessly at coworkers who aren't up to par. We must modulate.

But when it comes to sports and the distractions we know full well are meaningless, we can assign as much meaning and import as we'd like. We can drum ourselves into righteous fury and not a soul can stop us. We can watch our pet sport's title game and pin glory and greatness to those who win the game. We assign immortality. Because at the end of the day, sports are meaningless distractions whose meaning is derived entirely from the soul of the fan and the love of the crowd. It is our molding clay, and diehards see fit to mold it.

• • •

sad zoos

When I embarked on last year's Player Capsule project, I was well aware the thing wasn't going to be easy. In every sense of the cliche, I knew I'd have to dig deep to finish the project up and put a product on the table I could be proud of. I knew that. But I didn't really expect things were going to be quite as hard as they were. I didn't grasp going in how much of my time would be consumed by a project that few people I knew even realized I was doing. Although I'm still young, I didn't realize that my ability to pull out a degree and a thesis in three years of school wasn't an easily replicable process. I didn't realize that spending months on end with three to four hours of sleep a night, a 10-hour-a-day job, and seemingly impossible self-expectations was going to be so painful.

In a weird way, the project has loomed over the entire season for me. I don't know if I'll ever take on a writing project as enormous or all-encompassing again. I'm a pretty crazy guy, so maybe I will. But probably not. And ever since its completion, writing about basketball has gotten -- strangely enough -- more and more difficult for me. I worked so hard to come up with 370 distinct essays with feeling and love that I lost sight of the fact that the grind would continue for the entire remainder of the season. Gothic Ginobili's writers sort of vanished. The traffic we got from the project waned quickly. And before I knew it, the glow of accomplishment wore off and I was right back to where I was before it started -- tik-typing away, just a fan at a computer. And the work got harder. The narratives didn't present themselves as readily.

But that isn't to say my love for my favorite sport was heavily impacted. When you spend that much time on a project, you draw the project's subject closer and closer to your heart. I mentioned the "contract" a fan signs with a team -- give the team a certain-sized piece of your heart, and reap the accordingly-sized heartbreak or triumph. In doing the player capsules, I didn't really realize it at the time, but I was putting more of my heart on the line than I'd ever expected. I poured myself into this game, this silly game, and I now feel the consequences. Sports -- this meaningless exercise -- has become all I can think about in the run-up to this Game #7. This lingering dread, this shaky excitement. It is thrilling. And it is a terror.

And it is hard, now, to write about such things without drowning in the moment and intensity and love.

• • •

On Sunday afternoon, I was asked by everyone's dear friend Alex Arnon what it was like to visit San Antonio for Game #4 of the NBA Finals. I described it thusly, not yet aware that the description would fit just as well for the torturous proceedings in Game #6.

"Okay. Here's the situation. Have you ever had a friend who's really, really, REALLY into this thing they think you'd love? They're just SUPER into it. And they hype it up and get you pumped and get you raring to go. You may not have wanted it earlier, but you definitely want it now. They make you want it. Build it up. You gotta do it. Then, one day, they're like 'oh, hey, dogg... I got you tickets to that thing. You know, that thing you'll LOVE?' And you're all 'HELL AND DAMN YES' and you guys are running and running and you get to the car and you drive to the thing and you get a speeding ticket because it's so close but you don't even care. Man, it is right at your fingertips. You're just like 'AW HELL YEAH LET'S GET IT' and you look to your friend for tickets. And they reach into their jacket but instead of tickets they take out a glock and shoot your kneecaps and kick you in the face and shoot you in the chest, leaving you to die on the grass outside the gate, bleeding and broken. ... Well, OK. That hasn't happened to me either. But I imagine it was like that, you know?"

Someday, I'll write the book on Game #4 and Game #6. Someday I'll reach into the well of discontent and extract only the best fish from my sea of thoughts and impressions. But now? I can't. Because, at the end of the day, there's no avoiding the truth of the matter. I'm burned out. I never thought -- after so much effort and energy -- I'd find myself here. But them's the breaks. I worked and I rose and I fell and I hurt. And at the end of the day, I am here. Nervous, twitchy, proud. The Spurs are phenomenal. They are great. Are they the greatest? I do not know. Nobody does. Not yet.

There is a creep of expectations that occurs when your favorite team overachieves. Most know the type. When the Spurs overachieved in 2011, I expected little and received little. When the Spurs overachieved once more and looked invincible in 2012, I began to expect history. I did not get it, and that was crushing. And now, this year? I expected a flawed, old, and broken down Spurs team that would be lucky to get to the Western Conference Finals. What I got was perhaps the finest Spurs team that's ever stepped foot on the court, a beautiful symposium of offensive quintessence and defensive grind. As the playoffs began, I wanted little more than the second round. Then I wanted the Western Conference Finals. Then I wanted a competitive NBA Finals. Then I wanted the title.

Some people have asked me why I get so consumed by sports. I have a simple reason for you, beyond the burnout and the contract. The way most people's expectations creep for their sports team is also an apt description of the way I expect things of myself. Early in high school, it was enough for me to graduate with decent grades. Then it needed to be all-As. Then I needed to take more AP tests than everyone else. Then I needed to get more fives than everyone else. Then I needed to get into a good school. Then I needed to graduate in three years. Then I needed to get a great job. The tyranny of high expectations can consume a sports fan in unexpected grief -- imagine that, but applied to one's own life. A constantly rising bar, floating higher and higher as though the previous accomplishment meant nothing. In life, there is no end to this creep. There will always be a higher level. There will always be a step beyond.

But although I can critique my own performances into the infinite abyss, sports end.

The consequence is stark. One team will win, the other will lose. No matter which is which, there will be tears and sweat and the rejoice of millions. There is always a loser. That's the beauty. It's what assigns sports meaning, and it's what makes it hurt. There is hurt, today, for San Antonio's devoted fans. There isn't much else, after game six. There's frustration and hurt and the rap of fate's hammer against one's skull. But the game is not yet over. There is one more night, one more chance for the Spurs to make history. They may fail, as many have before them. Or perhaps they've got one last sports miracle left.

And in the end? This is why we watch the game. This is why we cheer.

Game seven is tonight.

GG AfterHours Replay, Episode 06: Finals, Game #6

After a game like last night's, there wasn't much chance of Dewey and I putting together any sort of coherent post-game show. So I decided to take a different angle and simply videotape my reaction to the waning moments of the game on my phone, giving our readers a chance to look into the head of a devastated Spurs fan as the seconds ticked away. The tape starts with the Spurs up 99-97. Tony Parker would split two free throws and the Miami Heat would ring off six straight points to take the game. Included is a defeated post-game run-down of the box score and an impromptu tour of my living room. Game #7 is Thursday.

-- Aaron

GG AfterHours Replay, Episode 05: Finals, Game #5

It's yet another postgame show. For last night's show, the regulars (Aaron McGuire and Alex Dewey) were joined by Thunderfriend Jacob Harmon for a free flowing conversation that rarely covers mature subjects. Discussion topics include: "Who's Finals MVP?", how excellent the series has been, the former absence of a combined strong effort from the dual big threes, and a few predictions on who wins the series as a whole. Also, Scratchy (Aaron's cat) chilled out for a while and tried to distract Alex Dewey's predictions. Really. As always, comments and suggestions appreciated in the comments below.

-- Aaron

GG AfterHours Replay, Episode 04: Finals Game #3

Well, that was a game. Tune in to the replay of last night's Gothic Ginobili postgame show to see two delirious Spurs fans completely and utterly blown away by what they've just witnessed. Topics discussed include: who's the finals MVP on both sides of the coin, what exactly was sustainable from San Antonio's run (in short: not everything, but not nothing), a hefty helping of consumed crow for an avowed Gary Neal disenthusiast, and a spattering of miscellany. As always, leave comments and suggestions for improving this feature in the comments below, and we'll be sure to try and implement them. Happy watching!

-- Aaron

Head vs Heart II: Taking Account of a Series Split

2013 NBA Finals - Practice and Media Availability

Hey, all. Aaron here. As most know, I am a San Antonio Spurs fan. Thus, I have a certain vested interest in these Finals, and a certain degree of faith in my heart that the Spurs can win it all. On the other hand, I am an NBA fan who watches untold hours of tape and tends to clinically divorce my heart from predictions, and I know how ridiculously good the Miami Heat are. I'm a statistician, after all -- Bayesian or not, I pride myself in my ability to separate my deeply-felt emotions from my handicapping and expectation-setting. Except, you know. Now. Spurs in the NBA finals? Against the dude that rocked Cleveland and infuriated an entire side of my family? Okay. Come on. There's no way I can keep that emotion out of my handicap. But I can keep it controlled. And thus, the series you see before you was born: Head vs Heart, a knock-down drag-out brawl between Aaron McGuire's better judgment and his undying faith in his favorite team. Game, set, match. Today? Let's take account of where we're at.

HEAD: Alright, so I think we can agree with where we're at after two games in Miami. The Heat won game two by about twenty billion points and the Spurs were a single errant possession from giving Miami the lead in Game #1 and being down 2-0. The series is tied, but it isn't exactly the kind of tie San Antonio wanted. Fair?

HEART: No, that's not fair at all!

HEAD: Oh, come on.

HEART: No, really, it's not. Sure, the margin was close in Game #1, but that underrates the extent to which San Antonio controlled that game. They won by four points and missed -- by my count -- seven or eight WIDE open threes. Although the shots weren't falling, the Spurs got just about everything they wanted on offense in Game #1 and completely set the tone defensively. Yeah, Miami had a bad night from their big three, but that was by design. Kawhi Leonard did a great job at forcing LeBron to defer, Duncan bottled up Miami's at-rim game as expertly as Hibbert did, and Danny Green was a revelation. It was a phenomenal game from the Spurs and it took about a million missed open shots for that game to stay close.

HEAD: I think you're totally off-base. First off, although the Spurs missed some open shots, the Heat did the same -- you can hardly say the first game was a blowout victory gone wrong for the Spurs without acknowledging that the Heat didn't get the same kind of calls they're usually accustomed to. Nor did they make all their open shots. And that second game in large part re-contextualizes San Antonio's offensive struggles in Game #1 -- they really DIDN'T have a great offensive game despite the scant four turnovers, in large part because they shot like crap and couldn't get to the line. And the same thing happened in game two. If that continues all series, it's curtains for the good guys.

HEART: Well, I suppose we can agree on this much -- if one of these two teams continues to be utterly unable to convert open shots and 100% unable to get to the free throw line, that particular team isn't going to win the series. Fair?

HEAD: Alright, you have me there.

• • •

IS LEBRON'S POOR-FOR-HIM PLAY SUSTAINABLE?

HEART: Honestly, he's not playing THAT badly -- he played very well in game one and so-so in game two, but he hasn't had anything remotely approaching the kind of stinker he had in 2011 or 2007 yet. No, classic LeBron, but... the Spurs aren't letting him get open and he's contributing as well as he can outside of that. I can see him having a game or two where he just absolutely blows the world up, but I can also see this maintaining over the rest of the series. People tend to assume LeBron's 2011 disappointment was solely due to LeBron's own failings. This is incorrect -- Shawn Marion and the broader Dallas defense did an amazing job sticking to him and keeping him out of his comfort zone, and Kawhi Leonard is copying that playbook to a T. The soft traps, the shading, the elimination of his pet passing lanes -- the Spurs are playing like a team that scouted him perfectly, and it shows.

HEAD: By LeBron's standards, he's playing like crap. Hate to say it, but it's true. And there's no reason to think it sustains over the course of the series. This is a player who shot 56% from the floor this season. Heck, he shot 50% from the floor on a 2010 Cleveland Cavaliers team that was obscenely offensively dependent on LeBron's offense. There is no real basis to expect a series where LeBron shoots 42% from the floor and can't get to the line to save his life. LeBron will play better. And for that reason, I'm not feeling all that poorly about my "Heat in six" prediction. Might revise it up to Heat in seven, but I'm not sure.

HEART: Come now -- there's ample reason to think it sustains. Mostly just 2011, but that's a thing! The Mavericks turned the wheels and fed off LeBron's fatigue with a system specifically tailored to exhaust and muffle him. Popovich is using Carlisle's playbook, and the Spurs -- for all the "haha they're so old" talk -- are uniquely set to run a next-level version of that beautiful Mavericks team defense. They have the dominant at-rim Tyson Chandler type defensive talent in Duncan, the Shawn Marion wing defender with long arms and great instincts, a Kidd-type recovery guard defender and a coach in Gregg Popovich who excels in putting his pieces together. I'm not saying LeBron averages 42% for the series. But I don't think it's a stretch to think that he keeps having some trouble.

HEAD: It's not sustainable. Stop convincing yourself of that. In Game #1, LeBron played a phenomenal game -- he wasn't scoring incredibly well, but he commanded the floor and he missed some shots he normally hits. Over the rest of the series, smart money says he hits those shots and keeps muscling San Antonio on the boards.

HEART: Agree to disagree, I suppose.

• • •

WHY IS GARY NEAL PLAYING?!?!?!?!?!?

HEART: I don't know, but I do know that he's giving me palpitations on defense.

HEAD: OK, I don't always have to be an enormous pessimist. There's a reason Neal's been playing. He can space the floor quite a bit better than Cory Joseph, and he has at least vestiges of ballhandling ability. In theory, Neal being on the court gives the Spurs added heft to their offensive sets by allowing Tony and Manu to cede ballhandling for short stretches to act as an off-ball threat and complicate the Heat's defensive schemes. Also: he's a good shooter.

HEART: That's nice and all, but he can't handle the ball. Or... okay, well, he CAN handle the ball, but seven times out of ten he shoots a jumper in the night. Seriously. It's so predictable. He just dribbles and isolates and takes a bad shot. He gets tunnel vision. All of these offensive sets are great in theory -- in practice, they're a waste of time if he isn't actually running them. And that defense...

HEAD: Okay, yeah, Neal isn't very good at defense.

HEART: You know how J.J. Barea knifed through the Heat's defense in 2011? Yeah. Gary Neal isn't that. At all. Except for the whole "oh, wait, he can't guard anyone" thing. People talk about how poorly Matt Bonner does on defense, and how teams can "take advantage" of Bonner off the dribble. Fair, but it totally overlooks the fact that Gary Neal is about 20x easier to take advantage of on defense. Pump fake. That's it. Or, alternatively, change directions. Not even sneakily -- at any point in your drive, just move in a different direction. He will spontaneously freeze up like a malfunctioning robot and throw up his hands. Also, if you drive past him, he ALWAYS seems to bring his arm up and weakly foul. You know how the Heat started their huge run in Game #2? They drove the ball at Neal every single time they got up the court. They got points on something like five straight possessions, because Neal can't play defense. And he's shooting 37% from the floor. That's not from three -- that's overall.

HEAD: Okay, yeah, I got nothing.

HEART: Pop, stop giving me palpatations. Thanks.

• • •

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE COCKTAIL?

HEAD: What?

HEART: Huh?

ANSWER THE QUESTION THO.

HEAD: Uh... on a dime? Without time to consider? A gin and tonic, I guess. Fundamentally sound, somewhat classy, sorta boring. But it's dependable, light, and tasty.

HEART: Bourbon.

HEAD: That... that isn't a cocktail.

HEART: I don't care.

HEAD: Fair.

• • •

THANKS, APPRECIATE IT. SO... GAME THREE PREDICTION?

HEAD: I'm going Miami. I don't like it, but... I'm going Miami. They figured a lot of things out in Game #2. And the Spurs are reeling a bit. They'll play a lot better at home than they did on Sunday, but they'll also have to contend with a better LeBron and a better Wade. It'll be close, and I won't be shocked if San Antonio wins it. But I'm going Miami.

HEART: I'm going San Antonio. Because, well... if they don't win, the whole complexion of the series changes. I have this weird feeling that the Spurs can't get behind in this series. Quietly, over much of the Spurs run, they've actually been pretty bad once they fall behind in a series. They need to maintain control of a series to stay on their top level. That loss in game two wasn't exactly akin to them losing control -- losing tonight would be. So if I expect them to win the series, and I think they've got a strong shot, I have to feel that they'll win tonight. So... I will. Go Spurs go, folks.

HEAD: Amen.

GG AfterHours Replay, Episode 03: Finals Game #2

 

What is the meaning of life? What do I look like when I haven't shaved in a couple days? The answers to all these puzzling questions will be revealed soon.

Anyway, we did a postgame last night. It was pretty depressing, but we held it together. Heh. In case you weren't aware, the Spurs lost to the Heat last night in a Game 2 blowout to even the series, as the Heat are wont to do. Seven times out of ten we drink our bourbon at night, thus spawning the theme of this program. The word "eviscerate" means "to deprive". In this case, the Heat eviscerated our fragile hearts.

But we're getting better, and by the end of us both of us are weakly reassured just enough by the Spurs' playoff run at large that we're both willing to go with the Spurs on Tuesday, albeit with weak confidence.

And hopefully we're getting better at the postgames. 30 minutes or so of bliss or brilliant entertainment... this is not. But we're getting there day by day. We're pounding the rock, and perhaps that's all that matters. Tonight in our postgame we talked about what we thought of this (all considering) bizarre game full of unlikely heroes and unlikely underperformers (HINT: Everyone more or less fit in one of the two categories, even freaking Ray Allen), and where we think the series as a whole is going. Anyway, have a good day, everyone.

--Alex

P.S. I thought turnovers were an obvious concern for San Antonio, though the actual mechanics of that didn't really come up until an hour after we finished broadcasting. So, on that note, I wrote a piece back in January about how the Spurs played the Grizzlies twice in the span of five days during the regular season, losing the first because of turnovers before making a slight but potent adjustment: They played Duncan and Diaw nearer to the top of the key, a few feet back from Duncan's most comfortable zone, in order to limit turnovers and create a second facilitator. This approach, with interesting strengths and weaknesses, is great for limiting turnovers and their ill effect, but playing your big that far away from the basket is far from ideal in terms of generating offense. But Duncan and Diaw are two of the best passing big men in the game, and I thought it was worth mentioning and linking.

2013 NBA Finals Roundtable: Nerves, Tics, and Switches Flipped

2013 finals cover

Hey, Dewey! It's Aaron, talking from omnipresent bold text. How's life? Here's where we'll start -- how nervous are you about this series? I feel like I'm going to get fired by game 2. I'm ridiculously amped up, but at the same time, ridiculously nervous and skittish. Damnit, sports.

Dewey: Honestly, I'm so amped up it's hard to feel nervous. It's one of those series where the Spurs would be ridiculously disappointed if they lost, but I can't help but feel like they've already slightly overachieved from this season and in doing so answered all the doubts caused by the Thunder loss. I feel like they're playing with found money, so to speak. And so all I can feel is hyped up. This is slightly ironic, because if I ever actually found myself in this situation, I would resent the "just happy to be here" mentality at its core. I mean, I do. But God, as a fan, I'm happy to be here. I was expecting disappointment after disappointment after the ludicrously poor finish the Spurs made to the regular season. So it's just a dream to me, honestly, the impact of a possible loss hasn't crystallized for me, it's just the thrill of knowing your team is facing the best in the East and hoping you have a shot.

McGuire: See... ever since the Kobe/Pau Lakers, I've had trouble putting a whole lot of faith in late-season schnids. At every step of San Antonio's playoff run, I felt like they had the potential to lose. I felt like the threat was very real, simply because it was possible that late-season team persisted. But there was also a crystallized grain of hope. Early this season, I distinctly recall noting that this Spurs team had the potential to be a uniquely special team. They could synthesize the best offensive runs of the 2012 edition with the throwback defense of the 2008 edition. (No, not quite Bowen's prime, but back when the defense was the calling card.) And as they got deeper, that grain of hope embedded in the clamshell of my heart became a lovely expanding pearl. And now the damn thing is big enough to be a tumor. If the Spurs lose -- whether it's a close series or not -- I'll feel like I've once again let the hope grow too close to the vest, as a fan. And that depresses me on a deeply personal level, even if I agree that to some extent the Spurs are playing with found money. (Also, alright, I'll be clear -- I despise the Miami Heat.)

Dewey: Well, yeah, and I think both of us thought they had at least a punter's chance from the outset. I was extremely and immediately skeptical of Kevin Martin replacing James Harden (and still am, even ignoring Harden's breakout season and Martin's, uh, relative fizzle against Memphis), and only an utterly dominant Thunder team really served to quell this skepticisim. Honestly, the Spurs have completely dominated the regular season the last three years, to the extent where I honestly felt like they could win 66 games if they really wanted to the last few years and had a few breaks... but, obviously, they didn't actively want that Like, the Spurs against the Kings or Bucks is not lopsided in terms of the matchups, but in practice the Spurs at full attention are a total force on both ends, a totally coherent, well-spaced, horizontal-coverage machine. The regular season was genuinely practice for the Spurs whenever Tony and Tim have been healthy. Yes, even with Richard Jefferson. yes, even with Manu injured. Yes, even with no one else stepping up. It didn't mean they'd always win, but they'd always put in a possible win.

• • •

All true, although... well... that late season swoon was a HECK of a swoon. Did you expect this kind of a playoff switch, or did the late season swoon make you think it was out of the question?

Dewey: What concerned me about the late-season swoon is that they stopped winning those games, and they even lost games that were unconscionable for a fully-armed, fully-engaged roster to lose. It struck me that Tony had lost a step, and 2011 was coming back in full force, despite Parker's legitimate case as a top-3 player for the first several months of the season. And when Tony loses a step, and you put a rangy defender on him? Game over. We had every right to think this, and every indication, despite how well he might play someone like Westbrook or Paul, despite how every shot seemed to be going in, despite the video game totals. We had every right to think that the run was over before it had begun. Even in San Antonio, "the switch" can only mean so much, right? Apparently not.

McGuire: One of the underrated things about this run is that -- much like the late dynasty Lakers -- these Spurs are putting up one of the most compelling arguments in recent memory against regular season performance in predicting playoff success. It's been droned into our heads ad infinitum over the past several years: The Spurs are a Regular Season Team. Sure, they'll rack up sixty wins and blow out fluff teams -- but when the elite teams come around, the Spurs can't hash it anymore. Well, about that... The Spurs team we saw in the last few months of the season -- for all intents and purposes -- doesn't exist anymore. It's gone. They did great things the first few months of the season, then just completely stopped playing coherent basketball for about two awful months of toilet-cellar play.

Dewey: Dude... what the hell's a toilet-cellar?

McGuire:Now, out of nowhere, they flipped a switch the second the L.A. series flipped to Los Angeles and they've been virtually unstoppable since, bested only by a few completely incredible performances by a humming-beyond-logic Warriors team. Ethan Sherwood Strauss (among others) said before the playoffs that it would be hilarious if the Lakers made a title run from the eight seed, proving once and for all that the regular season means next to nothing. It's in a bit of a lower key, but the Spurs are proving that barroom hypothesis out nearly as emphatically.

Dewey: No, really, I know you have a fancy new house or something, but what the hell's a toilet-cellar?

McGuire: ... I don't know. In my defense, you've written WAY more confusing constructions than that and asked me to edit them.

Dewey: MOVING ON.

• • •

A lot has been written about what's similar between the Heat and the Spurs, this year's cream-of-the-crop. All that stands on its own. But what, to you, is the most inherently different aspect about these two teams that you can't seem to wrench from your craw?

Dewey: Okay, so the obvious difference to me (besides the related point that the Spurs have far more balanced production) is that the Spurs' role players play multiple roles for the most part and the Heat's role players tend to play only a couple . Norris Cole, Udonis Haslem, Joel Anthony, Birdman? Shane Battier (who can't buy a shot) is quite a versatile player, but he can't create offense. He's a fundamentally limited player whose limitations he wears on his sleeve, and on the Heat he looks like Prime Gerald Wallace by comparison. Even Bosh has never been exactly transcendent in the Big Three Era. Even Wade's seemed to have a pretty simplistic game when he's not 100% or getting a lot of fouls drawn. I like the Heat's players, but they tend to do one thing exceptionally well and little else, and it helps if they can space the floor or play smart, solid defense.

McGuire: That's a hilarious answer to me.

Dewey: Now, don't get me wrong, as a whole they tend to be quite versatile because of LeBron's ethereal fluidity and Wade's crafty style. But as individual players they aren't, and this limits and structures their game. When LeBron was playing in the Olympics you couldn't help but notice how perfectly he fit into a team of All-Stars, especially all-star wings. And again, don't get me wrong, it's not like Danny Green is uh... Prime Gerald Wallace (again). I mean, these are players that know their roles and stick to them. It's just that... I mean, reducing what Danny Green does to defense and corner threes is actually really misleading. He is so crafty on both ends, does so much, and understands the game and how to use lateral motion incredibly well. He's quite a versatile player. Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter, Tim Duncan.... all these guys can pass it well, can set screens, can be in the right place on defense and make the extra rotations. It's not like Pop is doing anything magic - these are incredibly savvy, aware, intuitive players that can grasp what they need to do immediately, and they're versatile enough to capitalize on it. Granted, they're nothing without Tony's offense and Tim's defense, and the role players tend towards inconsistency (no, Kawhi doesn't count). But, aside from little used.Gary Neal, Aron Baynes, and Matt Bonner, the Spurs have a lot of players that grasp how to run a situation on offense, not just knowing where to be. This absolutely could be bias speaking, and the fact that I've seen far more of the Spurs than the Heat, but I just see the Heat 's role playersas being a full tier or two below the Spurs here in individual versatility. Danny Green is doing much of what Shane Battier is doing, but it's relatively common on the Spurs and relatively rare on the Heat.

McGuire: That's one of the funniest answers I've ever really seen in one of our roundtables, because I really didn't expect that at all. My answer is the same, but in the exact opposite direction. While their roles may be semi-predefined, my main point is that when you get down to the general rotation structure and the core pillars of their schemes, the Spurs are much more traditional in the way their players operate than the Miami Heat. LeBron is a phantasm that can occupy any of the five size-varied Russian dolls that make up positions. Wade is a scoring guard that can distribute as a point guard and defend players larger than he is with relative success. Bosh acts as a stretch wing in some capacities, but other times he acts as the central big man in Miami's offense and defense. And around them? Battier guards three to four positions depending on his knees, Chalmers constantly gets matched on random players and guards them with relative aplomb, and offensively Miami's transition game requires each of their players to have some versatile command of transition offense and movement principles. Spolestra uses such a ridiculous variety of utilization frameworks around his players that the Heat's offense and defense strike me more as a Rubiks cube whose shape is constantly changing than a set framework of defined roleplayers.

Dewey: Okay, yeah, that'd be hard to solve.

McGuire: Conversely, San Antonio is a lot more traditional. Sure, their players have a touch more skill-depth than you see in Miami's roleplayers, but Pop doesn't engage in massive feats of lineup versatility -- he tries a few interesting tweaks, but Pop's sophistication is in the general offense design, not the configurations in which he uses it. On a broad scale, the Spurs are: an unfairly talented center, a semi-traditional scoring point guard, shooters, and a versatile defensive stalwart at the large wing. That's a tried-and-true configuration, and with the exception of Pop's occasional sojourns with small-ball, he sticks to it. Pop's nontraditional elements are added in the form of plays, not the form of broader position-bending. That's my basic take -- both teams are unerringly creative, but the Heat bend the natural positions on the court and roles while the Spurs bend plays and broader system design in order to achieve their respective levels of elite play.

Dewey: Interesting. Huh.

McGuire: That said, your argument strikes me as a bit strange, because you're looking at the barren ends of miami's rotation while totally brushing aside "little used" players in San Antonio's scheme. For instance... Joel Anthony played six minutes in last year's finals. The entire finals. Miami has MORE depth this year. Who cares if he doesn't have a massive depth of skills? He's far less important to Miami than, say, Neal or Bonner... both of whom have barely any skill depth.

Dewey: Other than Joel Anthony, I listed four of the top nine in Miami's playoff minutes played this season. They are as follows:

  1. LeBron James; 659 (Jeeeeeeeeeeeez)
  2. Dwyane Wade; 527
  3. Chris Bosh; 511
  4. Mario Chalmers; 428
  5. Ray Allen; 381
  6. Norris Cole; 336
  7. Shane Battier; 305
  8. Udonis Haslem; 294
  9. Chris Andersen; 232

McGuire: While fair, I don't think you're totally familiar with San Antonio's playoff rotation if you're convinced Neal and Bonner are tertiary players compared to those folks. San Antonio's top nine minutes distribution to date is:

  1. Kawhi Leonard; 520
  2. Tony Parker; 518
  3. Tim Duncan; 481
  4. Danny Green; 421
  5. Manu Ginobili; 361
  6. Tiago Splitter; 280
  7. Matt Bonner; 231
  8. Gary Neal; 220
  9. Boris Diaw; 178

Dewey: HOLD THE PHONE HOW IS MATT BONNER 7TH IN ANY UNIVERSE LIKE OUR OWN? I WATCHED EVERY GAME HOW DID THAT HAPPEN. WAIT DID HE START ON MOTHER'S DAY, I BELIEVE THAT IS THE ONE GAME I MISSED. DID HE PLAY 58 MINUTES ON MOTHER'S DAY. HELP ME.

McGuire: No, but that would've been a good Mother's Day present for Momma Bonner. Anyway. How about LeBron, huh? He's averaging 41 MPG and doing virtually everything for Miami. Cripes. I hope Pop has been coaching Kawhi on the Marion/Kidd style exhaustion defense Carlisle used to great result in the 2011 finals, because there's an outside chance LeBron starts experiencing at least some degree of fatigue in this series.

Dewey: Probably not, but... I mean, it isn't out of the question. That Indiana series was PHYSICAL. Heh... Pop should just get the entire Western Conference together for a symposium. Just to teach Kawhi. Get the gang all together. Marion, Carlisle, Sefolosha... everybody. Get... oh my gosh, get George Hill and Roy Hibbert to consult. Oh my gosh. Aaron. This has to be real.

McGuire: Awesome. You know what'd be great? If Hibbert didn't leave Miami, and just bought courtside seats for the finals. Just was dapping Tim all game long and yelling out confusing heckling while Miami's on the court.

Dewey: Oh man, Bosh would be jealous. I see it playing out kind of like...

"Sorry, Bosh, too slow."
"Damn it, Roy."
"Too slow, once again. You get no daps."
"Haha, you're such a joker Roy."
"Too slow, again."

Then, by game 4:

bird tho

McGuire: Awesome. Holy crap.

Dewey: I'm picturing George Hill running a consultancy right now and it's really hard to shake this image. "Hey George. Heard you're running a consultancy George. Nice suit George. Gonna teach us the way to defend him george. For a reasonable fee, of course, George. Hey George. Missing u george."

McGuire: Imagine George Hill in a suit. A Pacers colored suit... with a small bolo tie.

Dewey: WELP. I was going to say "welcome to the last twenty minutes of my mind", but then you said "Pacers colored suit" and I was like "I guess you could say the same to me."

• • •

So, Aaron. Miami... you obviously have an odd relationship with them and their principal LeBron. Recently people have made reference to Cleveland LeBron making a return with the swoons of his supporting cast. But he's also gone through innumerable challenges and accomplishments since them. So, I'll ask you, finally: Does LeBron still evoke the scars and highs of Cleveland, almost 3 years removed from the Decision?

McGuire: I wrote in the player capsule series that I'd generally gotten over my LeBron dislike, and I wasn't being untruthful. The raw fury of my post-decision hate has faded. I can watch regular season LeBron without getting pissed off at him, at least. But every bit of ill will you eradicate leaves a mark or two, and in the case of LeBron, every feeling has its echos. In this case, the way this season has ended is especially evocative for me. The MIA/IND series reminded me so clearly of CLE/ORL, to the point of ever-disturbing deja vu. LeBron's "Cleveland mode" comments only helped to reinforce that. The fact that Miami actually won the series, primarily due to a few missteps by Indiana that Orlando didn't make in 2009? That's brutal. If the Heat win the title, the pain of 2009 will persist even longer -- the idea that the 2009 Cavaliers could have been this Miami team, overcoming a brutal ECF matchup to make the final step into history, will haunt me. Perhaps that's part of why I'm so nervous and itchy about this series. If the Heat win, the screams of those demons evolve from a murmuring titter to a belching roar. And I thought I'd figured it out, too!

Dewey: Haha, yeah. Honestly if the Spurs lose convincingly in this series, conversely, it will eradicate plenty of ghosts itself... namely, that the Spurs had a ghost of a chance in 2012. Hahaha. Hahahahaha. Ha. [bites a light bulb, continues to laugh maniacally] Which is kind of just as bad, but at least is more palatable in its certainty, to know that they genuinely would not have won in all likelihood.

McGuire: Sounds like you're wavering a bit. And stop biting light bulbs.

Dewey: ... You know, yeah. I started out thinking I didn't have much emotional baggage here, but that's a good point you're making. I have all the emotional baggage of the last four years stored in this game. I doubt it's accumulating except as photos in a picture book, but it is important -- I've watched (as a raw estimate) probably 250 games over the last 4 years that featured these San Antonio Spurs. These San Antonio Spurs with all of Duncan's brilliance (a term that he's starting to fade simply by being inadequate in description) and Manu's craft and Tony's elevation to a Hall of Fame guard. These San Antonio Spurs that have basically taught me the game of basketball, not as it was meant to be played (that's too normative; who doesn't like a great scorer taking over?) but a couple of ways, and ways they saw through to their furthest ability as individuals and an organization.

McGuire: What?

Dewey: So... I suppose LeBron has our vulnerable hearts in those giant pincer claws of his, once again. But, we don't know what to expect, once again, and sometimes we see that photo of Kawhi's hands and wonder if he can... uh... do the same thing to Miami that I was just semi-incoherently describing?

McGuire: Word.

• • •

Final predictions?

Dewey: Heat in seven. Sorry, heart. (I'm not sorry. Except that I am.)

McGuire: Head agrees. Heart says Spurs in six. I'll go heart, for once. Spurs in six. Let's get it, folks.

• WATCH GAME #1 TONIGHT AT 8:30 PM EST ON ABC. •

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