Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Randomization, 05/16/06

Can we kick out the Pistons and Cavaliers? After last night's awful fourth quarter, both teams deserve to get the boot from this year's NBA Playoffs. I know that one game doesn't define the overall quality of a team, but Detroit and Cleveland managed to put on the worst performance I've seen in an NBA playoff game since New York and Miami were destroying the league right before the turn of the century.

NBA apologists will give you the line about it being a really close game practically from start to finish, and that it was great defense in the closing minutes by both teams. If you were watching, your eyes told you differently. The following comes from the final 90 seconds of the game, as described in the play by play on ESPN.com (link). The sequence of events is true, but some items (like made free throws, for example) were removed for the sake of brevity. The events in italics came from one trip down the floor by Detroit:

Chauncey Billups misses 27-foot three point jumper
LeBron James bad pass (Tayshaun Prince steals)
Tayshaun Prince traveling
LeBron James misses 22-foot jumper
Tayshaun Prince misses 15-foot jumper
Ben Wallace offensive rebound
Richard Hamilton misses 8-foot jumper
Jumpball: Ben Wallace vs. Damon Jones (Chauncey Billups gains possession)
Chauncey Billups offensive foul (Anderson Varejao draws the foul)

Chauncey Billups turnover
LeBron James misses 19-foot jumper
Richard Hamilton misses layup
Ben Wallace misses tip shot
Tayshaun Prince bad pass (LeBron James steals)

That's not good defense, folks. It's bad offense. Give the Cavaliers and Pistons credit for playing some defense, something that is lost upon a team like, say, Phoenix. But what happened Monday night was an embarrassment for the NBA. Two teams, seemingly talented on both ends of the floor, failed to hit a single shot from the field in the final 2:17 of the game. In that span, the teams combined for a whopping four points on 0-6 shooting, 4-6 free throw shooting, and five turnovers.

Disgracefully, Cleveland, an inferior team in practically every sense of the word (the only advantage the Cavs have is that their best player, LeBron James, is better than Detroit's best player, Chauncey Billups), still has a chance to steal this series. The Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time Cavaliers still have to win a game in Detroit, which will be easier said than done, but their non-loss last night puts them in a spot where they can get past the Pistons.

Larry Brown done after just one year? Reports out of New York on Sunday and Monday indicated that Knicks' owner James Dolan is prepared to buy out Brown's contract after just one year on the job. The cost to Dolan could be as much as $40 million, and the same reports say that incompetent team president Isiah Thomas is probably next in line to become head coach. There are a couple ways to look at this story.

Either Dolan is stupid enough and ignorant enough about basketball to trust someone who will take on the number of bad contracts Thomas has traded for in the last two years, or Dolan wants Thomas to coach the team he's built so he can fire Thomas when the Knicks suck again next year. Chris Sheridan of ESPN.com thinks that Dolan is just as responsible as anyone for this debacle. Dolan has handed out fat buyout checks to the likes of Scott Layden and Dave Checketts over his time as owner, and another fat buyout check (Brown will almost certainly get close to all of that $40 million left on his deal) is coming. If Dolan finally wises up and gets rid of Thomas, there's another huge check. Dolan has the money (he's the Cablevision guy), but at some point, he has to get a knowledgeable basketball person in the office and leave that guy alone to do his job, instead of trying to make a big splash with a big-name executive or coach who doesn't fit the needs of the franchise.

(Please note that, while Dolan has messed this team up, and Thomas has practically destroyed it, Brown is not innocent here. He failed to clearly define roles for his players, especially once Thomas traded for Steve Francis to play alongside Stephon Marbury, a combination that was rarely on the floor together. It was a bad deal, but it had a chance to work if Brown had dealt with it properly. His famous lack of patience with younger players was a factor here, and he oftentimes seemed disinterested in what was going on, and Dolan was angered by Brown's penchant for taking his complaints about players to the press, along with the 42 different starting lineups Brown used over the course of the season.)

Nice guarantee, 'Sheed. Lost in the display of offensive inepitude late in the fourth quarter was the end of an era in basketball. Rasheed Wallace had previously been a perfect 3-0 when he guarantees a victory for his team in a playoff game. Wallace, apparently upset for some reason about his team losing Game 3 but still being in a very good position to advance, decided to put his perfect record on the line by guaranteeing a Pistons win in Game 4, going so far as to say that it would be the last game played in Cleveland this season.

Wallace's on-court answer to his promise of victory? 7 points on 3 of 13 shooting.

His team surely would back up his words, right? Detroit scored 72 points and shot 33 percent, failing to make a basket in the game's final 3:21.

San Jose mayor apologizes. Quick update on yesterday's lead story, which was the stupid fans in San Jose booing the Canadian national anthem. First off, San Jose's mayor apologized for the behavior, saying it was disrespectful to Canada and to the Canadian players on the Sharks' roster. Secondly, reader Adam in California e-mailed to remind me that Edmonton fans booed the Star-Spangled Banner in 1998, when the Oilers were last seen in the second round of the playoffs. Adam did agree with the premise of my post, which is that this is the last thing we need in hockey:
The Oilers' fans need to heed the warnings of their own. The message board on the Oilers' web site is full of fans begging others not to boo our anthem on Wednesday night. And I think you're right. Those ESPN idiots will use this as an excuse to rip hockey, instead of talking about it simply being a sign of fans willing to go pretty low to get their digs in at a rival.
Yes, Adam is correct. Oilers fans on their board did confirm for me that there was booing of the Star-Spangled Banner in Edmonton in 1998. And I'm sure their fans got ripped for it, so here's hoping they learned their lesson and they don't stoop to the level San Jose fans did on Sunday.

Furthermore, here's hoping that no one makes a really big deal out of one or two fans being disrespectful. There are rude fans everywhere, and as long as the booing isn't as obvious as it was in San Jose, we should all move on.

Bettman must go. Listen, there were some really good ideas put into motion this season. Many of them were originated by Bettman and the owners. And they deserve credit for that. But the changes were far too late in coming, and they only came after the league took a season off and realized the need to suck up to the fans. Not only that, but Bettman himself has the charisma of a dead fish. Appearing on Imus in the Morning Tuesday, Bettman had a golden opportunity to sell hockey to a host who doesn't like it and never talks about it, and he had a chance to do in front of a nationwide radio audience as well as a cable television audience (Imus is syndicated on about 150 radio stations and airs on MSNBC cable).

He didn't.

If anything, he may have turned a casual fan or two against hockey. He couldn't remember what game was next in the Edmonton-San Jose series (he called Wednesday's Game 6 the "last game of the series", which it might be, but only if Edmonton wins). He spoke with no enthusiasm about the upcoming Buffalo-Carolina Eastern finals series, even though there are viewers to gain and, in the case of the games in Raleigh, tickets to sell (reports are that sales for this series were not going as well as they did earlier in the playoffs, with tickets still available as of this morning). He did nothing to sell the faster pace of play, and he did nothing to sell Imus or his audience on the improvements that have come from a handful of rules changes in the sport.

So, basically, Bettman went on Imus, showed off the shiny Stanley Cup, smiled a few times, took the shots Imus delivered about how no one knows what's going on in the NHL this season, and went away. It was a completely useless interview for Bettman, at a time where he needs anything but that.

Sunday's coverage of the Heads-Up Poker Challenge on NBC drew a miniscule 1.1 rating, but yet that rating was higher than the rating for Saturday's NHL playoff game (Carolina-New Jersey), and it was on par with the average rating for an NHL playoff broadcast on NBC. The NHL's TV ratings in the postseason, between NBC and OLN, are down anywhere from 40-60 percent from 2004's playoffs on ABC and ESPN.

We need a commissioner in this sport who will be able to sell the sport. We need a commissioner who will speak with passion for the sport whenever he is in front of a television camera or in a radio interview. We need a commissioner who has the personality to take the shots from ignorant media people and shoot back when he feels it's necessary.

In other words, we need David Stern.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree with your statement about the interview being useless, but if you listened closely to the interview, you would have realized that Imus was, at one point, a casual hockey fan, and used to attend Islander games for three or so seasons when it was still en vogue to go out to The Coliseum.
Actually, the more embarrassing thing for Bettman is that Imus's points slamming the NHL were all valid ones. Imus's argument that the NHL has saturated non-hockey markets is correct (although he worded his polemic just a tad differently, I believe he said that having an Anaheim/San Jose semifinal was disgraceful and those cities shouldn't even have teams, but his true point was the aforementioned one), and his characterization of the NHL's season going until June 15th as "insane" is alarmingly accurate. Perhaps, Bettman doesn't need to go because his personality sucks. Maybe Bettman needs to go because prior to becoming commish, he wouldn't have known a puck from a kumquat, and his lack of feel for what is good and appropriate for the game is what hurts him most. When Don Imus has a better intuitive understanding of what is appropriate for the NHL than the commissioner of the damned league, there is a problem.