Since October 25th, when the NBA season began, a few things have changed. Some are minute; perhaps you switched from white wine to red, took up yoga or bought a new pair of dress shoes that you’ll save for just the proper occasion. Others, less so, but you can read about that in the oblique, unchecked vacuum that convinced you the world was one way when, in fact, it’s the other, at least to a large enough plurality for that to matter.
Much of what we presumed to be true is shaken, even stirred, while the rest is magnified to such an extent as to be distorted beyond reasonable comprehension. What we face now, in basketball as in life, is adjustment to the new normal.
David Foster/Charlotte Observer
Respect in sports is personal, as subjective a concept as can be. People respect seeming effortlessness, as in the case of Steph Curry’s cocksure 35-foot bombs under duress. Those same people may value in the same measure the distinct work ethic required to reach Curry’s dominance in the first place. Earning respect takes a variety of forms – achieving an objective preeminence helps, but so does fighting on behalf of a teammate and playing through the end of a long-dead season with as much tenacity as at the start.
Two separate, but thus far equal, entities continue to struggle with earning the respect of fans and casual observers. For the Charlotte Hornets, an identity crisis has stifled interest in a relatively small – but growing – basketball market, whose most notable notoriety this month comes on the heels of legislation rather than the home team’s magnificently disciplined run to and through the playoffs. For the Cleveland Cavaliers, another issue of identity has chased the team for two seasons. In both cases, fairness never bothers to pick up the phone.
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
Sixteen years of disappointment, heartbreak and anticlimax led to this moment. For every commercial featuring Brandi Chastain, the weight of the world pushing her to the ground at the very moment it lifted, there was a rumble about Abby Wambach’s training regimen, Carli Lloyd’s inconsistency or Hope Solo’s extracurricular activities. Not having won a World Cup since 1999, despite a trio of Olympic gold medals, wore on this team. They grew tired of heeding to the Germanys and Japans of the world in its most important tournament, and a shaky start did not bode well for the Americans.
When they needed to get it together in a time of dire need, however, where they so often had misstepped on the biggest stage, the U.S. women delivered a barrage of cannonading blows, exorcising demons and returning their country to a once and present glory.
Shout out to the fan in the crowd wearing the USA jersey, because he knows who the real winner of this series is. (AFP Photo/Jason Miller)
This is a safe space. Here, you can feel free to admit that you had no idea how we got here, to a 2-1 Cavaliers lead through three games of the NBA Finals. You probably thought the Cavs couldn’t do it when Kevin Love became Kelly Olynyk’s personal Stretch Armstrong action figure. And you definitely thought the Cavs couldn’t do it when Kyrie Irving went down with a fractured kneecap in Game 1. Sure, they had LeBron, but at 30 and in his fifth straight Finals, how much damage could he possibly inflict on his own? People that now say they knew the Cavs would be up 2-1 under these circumstances are liars. It’s alright, you can admit you were wrong. We all were.
The Eastern Conference Finals are now over, and LeBron James will be attending his fifth consecutive NBA Finals. We got what we expected, which isn’t necessarily what we wanted, but it isn’t what we didn’t want either. In a season full of surprise and intrigue – aren’t they all in the age of Moreyball? – and barring a miraculous, unprecedented comeback from the Houston Rockets, it may very well be that we receive a Cavs-Warriors Finals. That would pit the league’s current MVP, Steph Curry, against the Most Valuable Player of the last decade, James. And that would be barrel-of-chimpanzees fun.
So much of the narrative of the Finals, like the NBA itself, will revolve around LeBron, and that is perfectly alright. What we must not forget, however, is that this next series will feature the Finals debut of J.R. Smith, bomb detonation expert and titan of social media. For that, we should be grateful.
I’ve avoided this for so long. I ignored it like a ne’er-do-well roommate, years behind on his rent but always at the forefront of craft IPA and porter trends that cost more than a cigarette addiction in New York City. Speaking of, the apple has truly gone rotten in Madison Square Garden, as your New York Knickerbockers have plummeted to a new low. “But the cap space!” you say. I know. I know. It’s always the cap space, until it’s not. Elsewhere, the best team in the Eastern Conference (which is sort of like being the best dissenter in a Soviet gulag, but still) is up for sale, and the Pistons bring new meaning to the phrase “addition by subtraction.”
Ode to Earl, we hardly knew ye.
Trading away team headcases is a time-honored NBA tradition. From Dennis Rodman’s Detroit exit in 1993 (and then from San Antonio to Chicago in 1995) to Ron Artest’s unceremonious trade out of Indiana in 2005, getting rid of serviceable but troublesome players allows both teams and players to move on from the skeletons of a marriage gone awry. In situations like these, a player’s future success (Rodman’s with the later three-peat Bulls, Artest’s with the Lakers) tends not to cast the trade in a bad light because the team had decided it simply could not function the same way anymore.
On Monday, two teams expurgated veritable Anthony Fremonts, as the Cleveland Cavaliers dealt Dion Waiters to the Oklahoma City Thunder while acquiring J.R. Smith from the New York Knicks as part of a three-team trade which also involved Iman Shumpert. Both Smith and Waiters had endured franchise-altering waves in the last few months, and now each is set to test exactly how much a change of scenery can do to help a player’s psyche, to the betterment or detriment of their new teams.
Courtesy of sportsmockery.com, because of course it is.
Derrick Rose found himself in a boiling pot of chicken broth earlier this week when he said that he does not want to sit in “meetings all sore or be at my son’s graduation all sore just because of something I did in the past,” and then promptly went out and re-injured a different part of his sore-all-around body. The 2011 NBA MVP continues to seem light years removed from relevance, but he has now stepped a few bounds outside of reality, at least in the eyes of some angry fans. Elsewhere, the Grizzlies are starting to Grizz in a monumental, significant way, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has called for legalized and regulated gambling, surely to the delight of at least one TwH contributor.
Now that we’ve undoubtedly relinquished our New Year’s resolutions to the pain of reality, we can return to the one constant in this twisted life: J.R. Smith is a raging lunatic. The NBA’s most notorious night owl has been benched, and the Knicks have subsequently begun winning with much more frequency than we saw in the 2013 portion of this season. Elsewhere, the maniacal genius Rajon Rondo has hinted at a possible return to the court on Friday night, and the Eastern Conference has a fourth viable team that is playing over .500 basketball – an excellent defensive squad in the Atlantic Division, of all places, which is where we turn our attention this week.