Sports

No Bad-games Allowed – NBA preview, part 2

By
Sports Columnist
Thursday, October 28, 2010

Last week, I published part one of my NBA preview for what could be the most exciting season in the history of the league. I’m not going to say it was impartial because I took a big swig of Haterade and spat it out all over the Lakers. That’s going to happen again because I’m a bitter hometown fan who will always hate the Memphis Grizzlies management for handing them Pau Gasol in 2008. Also, because there aren’t lakes in Los Angeles, I suggest a name change to the LA Scientologists.

 

Kevin Durant — the kid who’s saving basketball

The NBA doesn’t have a great reputation. Outsiders look at the tatted-up, surly-looking millionaires and hear stories about drug possession and gun charges and automatically assume that this league is full of thugs. Of the past two MVP winners, one left his home state’s team to go hit on models in Miami with his buddies and the other drew rape charges that had to be settled out of court. It is a problem that has really hampered the spread of NBA popularity.

But this year’s MVP winner is going to change all of that.

Yes, I just predicted this year’s MVP before a single week of basketball has even been played. He was the runner-up last year, when he locked down the scoring title, energized a young franchise and pushed the team to its first playoff appearance in five years. A 22-year-old who was chosen to be the leader of the young Team USA roster that won this summer’s Federation Internationale de Basketball Championships in Turkey ­— he was named the overall MVP for the tournament.

It is his time. His name is Kevin Durant.

During the last offseason, with speculation about LeBron James and other free agents swirling about, it was a great time to grab attention. Basketball stars were fussing about being kept happy and opt-out clauses were all the rage. In an almost comical juxtapostion to this, Durant sat down with his parents and Thunder management and inked a five-year extension to his contract. No opt-out clauses in this baby. Just a guarantee by Durant to stay in homely, unflashy Oklahoma City and continue building the small team that drafted him into a basketball powerhouse. Now that he is committed for so long, other players who want to play with all-stars can safely sign with the Thunder without fear of him jumping ship if the going gets tough.

Not that he would. This guy is a family man. The extension we were talking about? $86 million. Where does Durant live? With his parents. No supermodels lounging by the pool or movie stars doing blow off of his pool table. Just the pretty house he bought for his mom. He’s just a fantastic, humble, hard-working and incredibly talented young man.

Now, he will save the NBA. The Thunder are the fourth-best team in the league by my calculations, but they stand in stark contrast to the other three top teams. Unlike the Celtics, they are youthful. Unlike Kobe Bryant and his Lakers, they are humble. Most importantly, unlike LeBron James and Chris Bosh of the Heat, they are loyal.

He and the Thunder will cut through the NBA like they are the Red Squadron during the trench run in “Star Wars” and snag a two-seed in the West. Durant is armed with the photon torpedoes to shatter the NBA’s bad reputation Death Star. People will say that the Thunder can’t win the title and that this trench run is an impossible task, but Kevin has bulls-eyed womp rats in his T-16 back home and they aren’t much bigger than two meters. If he is going to make it to the exhaust port and win the Western Conference, though, he needs to get past Darth Bryant and the Lakers.

Godspeed, Kevin Durant. May the force be with you. Always.

 

The tragic attempts of Chris Paul to do the right thing

New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul is very good at basketball. In fact, CP3 will go down as one of the greatest point guards of all time if he doesn’t have too many more injuries like the one that sidelined him last year. He’s a transcendent player — a guard whose most valuable skill isn’t his quickness, or his ability to blow through three defenders to get to the hoop, or even an uncanny ability to steal that rivals that of Thomas Crown.

No, what makes Chris Paul special is his fantastic passing. Jaw-dropping feats of vision and athleticism that just highlight the number of ways that one man can make a whole team exponentially better. The New Orleans Hornet is the greatest point guard of this generation and a genuinely nice guy who is one of the most exciting players in the league.

Maybe that’s why it seemed so uncharacteristically greedy of Paul to ask for a trade this past offseason. Well, he didn’t actually ask for a trade. He just said that if the Hornets weren’t even going to try to win games that he would rather be somewhere else. THE NERVE!

Of course, Paul retracted the statements, apologized to the fans and since then has continued to be a model player. But those statements were like an off-handed comment about someone else’s attractiveness to your spouse. Now, whenever Paul has a bad game or the going gets tough, the New Orleans media will turn into a screaming significant other. (‘WELL, IF MY FREE AGENCY SIGNINGS ARE SO BAD, THEN WHY DON’T YOU GO PLAY FOR THAT LITTLE HARLOT IN MIAMI?’)

Chris Paul saw what happened to LeBron James’ image in Ohio when he left the Cavaliers. Not only is Paul a great guy, but he genuinely loves the people of New Orleans and doesn’t want to let them down. At the same time, it’s awfully hard for him to look around the league at other superstars banding together to win games or running away to big cities like New York and not feel a little envious.

Meanwhile, on the home front, Paul has to play in front of a crowd that, after 17 home games last year, ranked 24th in attendance. That’s sixth from the bottom. If you think that the stigma of playing for New Orleans’ “other” team doesn’t get to him, consider how you would feel if the only other professional sports team in town was consistently showered in love and affection that seemed to be withheld from you. You could say it was because the Saints won the championship, but even in the 2007-2008 season, a year when the Hornets were the second seed in the West and had their most successful season in franchise history, team ticket sales only picked up after football season ended. That year, the Saints went a mediocre 7-9.

This is the situation Chris Paul finds himself in.

He gazes wistfully out the window at all of the other NBA superstars frolicking about on their new teams in big-market cities. He realizes he has to stop daydreaming and he turns back into his office. He calls up the New Orleans fan base to tell them he loves them, but he can hear the Saints giggling in the background. The fan base hangs up on him, still furious about the stupid comment he once made. He sighs, sits back in his office chair and looks at the work he has in front of him on his desk: a division with the Rockets, Spurs and Mavericks. He knows he will be held responsible for this team and he will need to carry the players to the title. Chris grits his teeth, takes a deep breath and begins to work.

You are doing the right thing, Chris Paul. And just like the old saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished.

 

Sam Sheehan ’12 thinks Kevin Durant should spend his signing money at Tosche Station on power converters. Talk sports (or “Star Wars”) with him at sam_sheehan@brown.edu

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