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Last Thursday, the NBA’s trade deadline came in like, if not necessarily a lion, then a tiger cub exploring wilderness without its mother for the first time, but it went out like Dwight Howard – generally functional, marginally compelling, much more infuriating and with its movers likely coming away with the impression that they are all champions, no matter what.
While arguably the biggest move of the day involved Orlando sending Tobias Harris to the Pistons for Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova and was more or less functionally about basketball, a number of less-heralded moves seemed to speak to the cultures of the teams involved: Cleveland traded for Channing Frye to hedge against Kevin Love questions, Oklahoma City nabbed Randy Foye as a more stable proxy for Dion Waiters in the backcourt and the disappointing Wizards ended up with the annoyed Markieff Morris. None of these says “cultural fit” so much as it does “cultural change,” but sometimes in the NBA, as in life, a move is good for the soul.
Remember, remember the third of December, in the year of our LORD 2014. This was the day He gave the Philadelphia 76ers their first victory of an already lost and troubled season, albeit one calculated to be that way; let us rejoice, and be glad in it. The Sixers managed to avoid setting a record for the worst start in NBA history, so, you know, there’s that. Meanwhile, Anthony Davis is quickly becoming who we thought he was, and the Hornets are creating the wrong kind of buzz.
On November 7th, at the behest of Blog Serf James Vasiliou, I attended my first game in the Time Warner Cable Arena of this NBA season. Much has changed since last year, of course; the historically dismal Charlotte Bobcats had re-branded themselves as the Charlotte Hornets, returning to this city one of the most recognizable symbols of its growth during the 1990s and revitalizing a brand which had never really been the same since George Shinn moved the team to New Orleans in 2002. I fully intended to write about how the Charlotte Hornets, rather than the Bobcats, had returned to their place as a rallying point for a city, a way of telling the rest of America that Charlotte hosts more than simply heartless financial institutions and an airport you hate to stop through on your way to Boston, or Philadelphia, or Dublin. I intended to write about how the Bobcats’ postseason appearance last year, only its second in franchise history, became the perfect setup for this season and the re-emergence of the Hornets at just the right time. I wanted to write about how much better purple and teal look than grey, orange, navy and whatever other random colors the Bobcats haphazardly slapped on their uniforms each season to sell more gear to their beleaguered fanbase. I wanted to write about Al Jefferson’s jump hook (I’ll do that anyway, don’t worry).
Instead, I became positively enchanted with the Hornets’ shiniest new toy. No matter what happened on the court, I could not steal a glance away from him. This is how I learned to stop worrying and love Lance Stephenson.
How do you solve a problem like Lance Stephenson? The third-year man has averaged a career-high 13.9 points per game for Indiana this year, though he has struggled mightily in the last two games. The bigger story which has emerged, however, is what pundits call his “antics” and what the Internet simply dubs “trolling.” In Game 5, Stephenson used a questionable defensive tactic by blowing into the ear of LeBron James, who was in the midst of a foul-troubled, seven-point game which was the worst of his playoff career. Elsewhere, Russell Westbrook is the crux of the Thunder discussion, as he has pretty much been since the James Harden trade, and Gregg Popovich doesn’t want to hear any more of your stupid, stock interview questions.