Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Welcoming the NBA's Craziest Player

Let me begin by saying, I like that my favorite NBA team has never been afraid to make a big splash.

The Rockets have a history of making large, aggressive moves. Look at the names they've dealt and dealt for in just MY lifetime: Tracy McGrady, Steve Francis, Dikembe Mutombo, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, and now Ron Artest. This ain't roleplayer-for-cash-considerations swaps we're making here.

Owner Les Alexander, former GM Carroll Dawson and now Dawson's heir apparent, Daryl Morey, see the Houston Rockets as a premier NBA franchise - and as a fan, you have to appreciate that, especially when you're from a city that is sizable in populace but largely ignored by the national media.

I love this move on several different levels. For one, he only has a one year deal. If Certifiably-Insane-RonRon skips his Paxil dosage and throws a shit-fit or two, we can Bonzi Wells him and trot out the same team that copped a 4 seed last year despite significant missed time from Yao and T-Mac. That's the WORST case scenario.

Best case, he adds the additional wing scorer that Tracy so desperately needed (see: Game 2 of the Utah series this year, when nobody but T-Mac could create their own shot), a third banana to our two mega-stars. He allows McGrady to take the number 2 or number 3 offensive option on defense, dependent on whether or not Battier AND Artest are on the floor with him together. Tracy will be more refreshed on O, consummate team player Battier becomes Bruce Bowen without Satan horns, and both Yao and Tracy face fewer double-teams.

Also, if and when McGrady's back flares up, Artest gives us another seasoned primary scoring option. This isn't even taking into account that Luis Scola improved offensively as he adapted to the American game, Rafer Alston took a leap forward last year under Adelman, and Carl Landry will only get better in his 2nd season. Oh, and they added veteran depth with Brent Barry signing in the off-season.

Look at it this way: who do you want in a matchup with the Lakers (who the Rockets beat in the season series 2-1 last year) - Baby Bynum and his knee, or Chairman Yao and his recovering foot? A soft Gasol, or a 2-headed forward tandem of Landry and Scola? Lamar Odom or Ron Artest? I would ask Kobe or Tracy, but that answer's obviously #24. Derek Fisher, one year older, or Skip with another year of seasoning? A bench of Battier-Barry-(maybe Mutombo, Francis)-Head, or Walton-Sasha-Farmar? The matchup now is certainly closer than yesterday.

Could we win a title with Ron Artest? Hard to say - but we did win with Vernon Maxwell. And he was fucking INSANE.

At least there's a precedent.

Friday, July 04, 2008

An Open Letter to Missouri Basketball

Dear Mizzou Basketball,

I, as a man-law-abiding sportsman, aknowledge that you, as my alma mater, represent the college basketball entity I am obligated to devote my fandom to. However, it seems like you've done everything in your power to shoo me from staying with you.

Like it or not, we've been thrust into this relationship. Since I began my courtship of you in the Fall of 2004, though, you haven't seemed to show the slightest interest in wooing me. My emotional investment in you has been somewhere between marginial and thorough; my expectations realistically grounded, my hopes hovering slightly higher. You've flashed a sheepish smile in the form of a home win against Kansas, or a flirtation with pushing the envelope of a winning season, but invariably, you've given me more shame than pride.

A timeline since our first enounter:

October 23, 2004
My new team, a new era, a new stadium. The Tigers get their first shot at playing in front of a crowd in their new Paige Sports Arena in the Black and Gold game. We'll be in rebuilding mode this season - but hey, we've got sparkling new digs, so that will make things far more bearable.

November 4, 2004
Mizzou and the NCAA announce sanctions that include the loss of scholarships for two years, a one-year off-campus recruiting ban, and 3 years of probation. The discipline stems from an incident that preceded us meeting each other, yet I was fully aware of: a saga simply referred to as "Ricky Clemons." I elect not to delve further into this, because most of it preceded when we first crossed paths. I don't care about your exes; I'm more concerned about today. So, a rough start, but we're looking forward.

November 26, 2004
Paige Sports Arena is renamed, cleverly I may add, "Mizzou Arena," amid accusations that the Wal-Mart heiress it was named after cheated her way through college. Bill and Nancy Laurie had donated $25 million to launch the original arena project, and in exchange recieved naming rights and other perks. Paige Laurie, the besmirked namesake, never attended Missouri - she recieved a bachelors degree from USC. These are not positive omens.

March 15, 2005
Quin Snyder's second consecutive nightmarish season concludes as his team loses to DePaul at home in the first round of the NIT, 75-70. This is the second year in a row the team ended their season in the second tournament's first game. The Tigers finish 16-17, their first losing season since 1996-97.

November 14, 2005
The Tigers lose their season opener to Sam Houston State, 80-77, in a game that I contend should be called The Justin Ray Classic. I did not anticipate that I was transferring to the weaker basketball school when I left this Southland Conference powerhouse for the land of Stormin' Norm.

December 21, 2005
In the annual Braggin' Rights showdown, no. 6 Illinois, a final four team the year before, demolishes Mizzou 82-50. I learn it is the worst loss in the history of the series for the Tigers. Hilariously, yet somewhat sadly, an enraged Missouri fan dumps popcorn over Quin Snyder's head after the game.

January 16, 2006
In what was easily the high-water mark for my Mizzou hoops fandom, the Tigers shock the Kansas Jayhawks in Columbia. The team is showing signs of life - 10-5 overall, 3-1 in conference, and what will be a quality win on the possible tournament resume. The Tigers begin reeling me in as a full-fledged fan.

February 7, 2006
Five consecutive double-digit conference losses later, I am far less enamored. The streak of futility includes the worst home loss in 25 years (82-58 to IOWA STATE) and is capped off by a 26-point loss to previous 1-win juggernaut Baylor. Our sparkling arena remains sparkling because nobody is coming to see this monstrosity in action.

February 10, 2006
The Quin Snyder era ends, as he "resigns." Resign is the word used by Mike Alden in a structured, well-rehearsed statement, and reeks of falsity. Quin had seen much better days before my arrival, but unfortunately my perception of him is dominated by the basketball I saw first hand while I was there. That being said, his career record with the Tigers was 126-91, and he did take the team to the NCAA Tournament 4 times, including once to the Elite 8. I never even sniffed that kind of action, though.

March 9, 2006
The season ends in round one of the Big 12 Tournament at the hands of Nebraska, 71-64. Seven people watch this game.

March 26, 2006
Mike Anderson is named as the new coach. After watching a bit of UAB the season before, I'm excited that we'll be playing a faster, more aggressive brand of basketball that emphasizes a kinetic defensive style and push-the-rock mentality. This has got to be a step in the right direction, I say to myself.

February 17, 2007
Mike Anderson Jr. is arrested for a DWI. Yes, he is our head coach's son. No, he is not a valuable member of our team. Carry on.

2006-2007 Season Recap
Amidst the lowlights of my time as a fan, the '06-'07 season was a shred of promise. Stefhon Hannah emerged as the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, flourishing as the point man of Mike Anderson's fluid offensive scheme. Matt Lawrence, Kalen Grimes and Leo Lyons emerged from nowhere to be extremely valuable contributors. J.T. Tiller emerged as a personal favorite of mine because of his tireless defensive efforts. Even Jason Horton flashed glimpses of mild competency. The on-court product, despite finishing 18-12 and missing the NIT, was flush with effort and fire. Add the promise of transfer DeMarre Carroll coming in the season ahead, and Mizzou basketball looked like something I should at least not write off in its entirety.

July 5, 2007
Highly regarded transfer DeMarre Carroll is shot in the ankle outside of Tropicana Night Club in Columbia. Details of the fracas are sparse, yet all reports imply Carroll was an innocent bystander trying to break up a fight. Carroll ends up being alright, and I chalk it up (optimistically) to a kid being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

July 10, 2007
Kalen Grimes is accused of striking a man in the face with the butt of a shotgun in the parking lot of a Dairy Queen in Florissant, Missouri. I wish I was creative enough to make this shit up. Grimes is formally charged the next day with second-degree assault. On July 17, Grimes is dismissed from the team altogether. Apparently the fight that led to the climactic act of Grimes Barry Bondsing someone with a pump started in a Jack in the Box parking lot, before spilling to DQ. Good to see Kalen was making smart dietary choices, as well.

2007-08 Preseason
Despite the Grimes and the Carroll incidents, excitement seems to be renewed for Mizzou hoops. The school is riding high on an incomprehensibly successful and surprising football season, a fraction of which would bring elation to Tiger basketball. People have not forgotten the promise brought forth by Mizzou's fresh look last year - energy, tenacious defense - and another year of Coach Anderson instilling his system and working his guys into the program can only bring more reward. DeMarre Carroll is even named Big XII Preseason Newcomer of the Year, and Tiger alumni Thomas Gardner is (shockingly) getting minutes for the Chicago Bulls.

October 18, 2007
That didn't take long. A few weeks before the Black and Gold game, Darryl Butterfield is suspended from competition following an arrest for allegedly punching his ex-girlfriend during a domestic dispute. Darryl returns to practice a few weeks later, after issuing a public apology.

November 18, 2007
At least something from the team's past can make us feel better: Norm Stewart is inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame. I am aware of his success and stature in Tiger lore - his name is on the court, after all - but am inspired to learn a bit more upon this announcement. He won the Tigers' only national championship, in baseball in 1954, and was named national coach of the year twice, leading his team to the NCAA tournament 16 times. So the rumors are true! We were good at one point.

December 2, 2007
The Tigers drop both games in a crucial pre-conference road swing. First, a heartbreaker in Arkansas, followed by a less inspired effort at Cal. Either win would have glimmered a bit on a potential post-season resume, especially for a bubble-at-best looking team like Mizzou. Disheartening, but conference play is still yet to start.

January 29, 2008
Five (FIVE!) players are suspended after being involved in a brawl outside of Athena Night Club: Marshall Brown, Stefhon Hannah, Butterfield, Jason Horton and Leo Lyons. Hannah, the team's leading scorer, gets the worst of it - he suffers a broken jaw in the melee. Hannah will never play again for Mizzou.

Coach Anderson's hard stance is commendable, but it's getting tough to even take the team seriously at this point.

February 12, 2008
Stefhon Hannah is formally dismissed from the team. In every press release regarding the dismissal of a player, one line always exists:

"We will continue to support (insert player name) through this difficult time and his health continues to be our primary concern." I think the S&I director has a template for these releases saved in a Word file on his computer.

March 13, 2008
Missouri loses to Nebraska in the opening round of the Big XII Tournament. We finish 19-11, and miss the NIT. I am several states away, and have stopped paying close attention.

June 27, 2008
Keon Lawrence tells Coach Mike that he will be transferring. Lawrence boils it down to personal problems and unhappiness, not blasting the coach or program. All things considered, I would probably transfer, too. Keon had taken on a leadership role when the wheels fell off the season post-Athena-fight, and correspondingly elevated his play. Lawrence, in my eyes, was usually the most talented player on the floor any time he came into the game.

So how does that riot act look, Missouri basketball? I've tried and tried to love you, but have gotten nothing but shame in exchange for my efforts so far. I'm not going to bail out completely, but if you were a thinking entity with reasoning abilities, I'm sure you wouldn't blame me if I did.

You're running out of time and chances,

Young Alumni