LONG BEACH, CA - My laziness always gets me into trouble. I kept putting off and putting off my column for the school paper until it was two hours before deadline and I hadn't written a word. I kept looking for a fun angle on the Rush Limbaugh-Michael J. Fox story, but Slate.com already took the best one with their "Rush is just pretending to be a moron for his show, he's really normal away from the microphone" idea. Then I thought I'd go with the "no matter how many crummy things happen, the Republicans blame the victims and/or Democrats instead of focusing on the actual story" approach. I was going to write about Cindy Sheehan, Mark Foley, Katrina, etc. The quotes just weren't there though.
It's pretty pointless to write an opinion column where 98% of the readers will agree with you. Do people need to be told that sexually harassing minors and making fun of those with disabilities is wrong? I hope not. Fortunately, at the last second I found a ray of hope. I saw a commercial for this movie, "Death of a President" that looked like it'd make for a killer column. It's a mockumentary about the assassination of Bush and what happens to the country afterward.
So I got an extension for the column. Of course, since I'm a total idiot I didn't account for the fact that the film wouldn't be playing anywhere in conservative lameass San Diego, hence the dateline. If you're keeping track that's about $20 of gas money to make the round trip, plus a $4 dollar toll, plus the price of the movie ticket, all so that I wouldn't have to write a 650 word version of this book.
Oh, and I had to sleep next to some hairy Indian lardbutt.
The good news is I finally have some good Eastern conference teams to write about. For reasons that remain unclear the Central division is more stacked than Jessica Simpson. And consequently, the balance between of power between the Central and the other two is as disproportional as... well, Jessica Simpson. A good argument could be made that the top four teams in the Central are also the top four in the conference. In fact, I just made it. I'd be shocked if the Finals representative didn't come from here, no matter how much they beat each other up during the regular season.
Chicago Bulls - I gotta give it up for the deepest team in the East. Sure, they'll probably score fewer points than any of the others, but their defense will be so good that it'll hardly matter. The Bulls have a solid crunch-time backcourt in Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordon, with Chris Duhon a capable backup for both. Up front is where they'll really stand out though. They're so deep at forward that the reserves could start for almost any other team in the league. Why, they could even start for Chicago.
I guess that's a roundabout way of saying I'm confused why P.J. Brown and Luol Deng are starting. Well, maybe not Deng so much since rookie Tyrus Thomas (an Aaronstampler waiver pick up on his fantasy squad) is so raw, but how could the ancient Brown be ahead of Andres Nocioni? The guy is like the AK-47 of the East, a total box score stuffer. And he was easily their best player in the playoffs vs. the Heat. Would it make too much sense to give him 40 minutes a game? Okay, so he's on my team too. Screw you.
The real key for the Bulls will be how much they can get out of Big Ben, the unscrupulous traitor. As you may recall, I didn't mince words about how I felt Wallace screwed over the Pistons, particularly his boss Joe Dumars. And I also think the contract Chicago gave him is going to look awfully stupid in the long run since the guy is already in his decline phase.
Still, for this one season he'll be carrying enough of a grudge to play like this dude
played in 2005 for his new team. In a completely unrelated coincidence, Petey was awful this year and will be out until at least the All-Star break next year after undergoing rotator cuff surgery. Chicago's window to do something - anything - with Wallace will pretty much be this year. Beyond '06-07 they'll have to pray that either Thomas really pans out, or that the Knicks suck enough for them to land Greg Oden.
Indiana Pacers - Some might think this is a crazy pick here, but I can't help it, I love Indiana's starting five. Oh I'm perfectly aware that there are questions galore with everyone, but if Rick Carlisle - the best coach in the East - can somehow get everyone to pull on the same rope, whose got more talent?
Am I concerned? You bet. Jermaine O'Neal and Al Harrington are both soft and brittle. But if they're right, we're looking at 40-20 every night between the 4 and the 5 spots. Who else can deliver that? Danny Granger had a solid rookie campaign last year, but he's got the dreaded sophomore jinx to worry about, as well as the pressure of being thrust into a starting role. Jamaal Tinsley has to rebound from a disastrous injury-plagued '05-06 and must take over the reigns here because the security blanket of having Anthony Johnson behind him is gone. Finally, crazy-ass Stephen Jackson has to dramatically cut back his turnovers, ejections, and arrests.
Obviously, I'm asking for a lot here. But frankly, if these guys have any pride at all, they'll come to the realization that they owe it to their fans, their coach and to their GM Larry Bird to put together one 82 game stretch of effort, good citizenship and durability. And I'm afraid the starters will have to carry the lion's share of the burden because there isn't much of a cavalry on the bench besides Jeff Foster. "Antz" look-alike Marquis Daniels and Sarunas Jasikevicius was a disappointment in his first year in the league. Hollinger is high on backup forward Maceo Baston, but I don't know anything about him. Basically everything has to break just right for this team to contend, but if any franchise is due for a break, it's the Pacers.
Cleveland Cavaliers - It's hard to dismiss the team with the best player, but I just can't find it in me to jump on the Cavs bandwagon all willy nilly like. There are problems bubbling just below the surface, if you just pay attention. I think they played out of their minds and caught several breaks to advance as far as they did last year, (including a no-call on an obvious BronBron travel at the end of Game 3) and unless they shore up some glaring deficiencies the 2nd round will be their plateau for `06-07 and beyond.
Their biggest bugaboo remains the point guard position. The combo of Eric Snow and Damon Jones was horrid last year, and I don't think the problem was that they weren't seasoned enough. How an otherwise good team could completely neglect such an important position continues to baffle me. I guess the philosophy is similar to the Jordan/Pippen Bulls or Kobe's Lakers where the wing people are the de facto points and the little guys are supposed to just catch and shoot, but even if that's the case, there are much better options to be had (and for cheaper) than Snow and Jones.
I'd also like them more if they played Anderson Varejao. I know the guy had a total thuggish foul on some Greek guy during the World Games, but I won't bury him for just one incident. I think Varejao can give this team the defense, hustle, toughness, and rebounding that they sorely lack with Drew Gooden as the starting PF, so the more he plays the better off they'll be. But yes, I'm dusting off the Fortson-Meter for Sideshow Bob. Just in case.
Another mark against them is that I just saw LeBron on The Daily Show. King James looked surprisingly uncomfortable in front of a camera with no script to go on. He wouldn't look Jon Stewart in the face and has the phoniest fake laugh I've heard outside of the MNF booth. I think both Kobe and D-Wade would've pulled this off a lot more smoothly. C'mon King James, man up! You can't conquer the world if you don't know what to do when someone isn't asking you about basketball.
Oh that reminds me. James sucks on defense. I mean he's just awful. This isn't 1983 superstar, some people will actually notice if you don't stay in front of your guy.
Detroit Pistons- They'll probably make me look quite stupid a few months from now, but I think this Detroit team could be headed for a freefall. Ben Wallace left because he absolutely despised Flip, this is true, but it's not like the other Wallace was very fond of Saunders himself, and he's still around. Let's face it, `Sheed played like one gigantic pussy the whole year in '05-06. He treated the paint like it was Chernobyl and chucked about as many three pointers as Mr. Shimmy, with the same disastrous results. Seven rebounds a night in 34 minutes of PT for a 6'11" guy of his ability sounds pretty crappy, doesn't it?
Big Ben left and took the Pistons' defensive identity with him. We all know T-Rex is clueless in the middle, so now everyone will attack the rim without fear. Rip was never any good at checking people anyway, and Chauncey is too bulky to keep up with most of the younger points in the league. The one good defender left is Prince, but as Manu showed in the Finals two seasons ago, he's not impregnable.
The outlook hardly gets rosier when one looks at the bench. McDyess is still a solid player when healthy, and he'll give more effort than Wallace on most nights, but besides him there isn't much unless names like Carlos Delfino and Ronald Dupree thrill you. Once again the starters will have to be run ragged for this club to win 50 games. I guess these things happen when your organizational philosophy is to throw all the available cap money at the starters.
I find it highly unlikely that the Pistons' makeover as an offensive team will work out any where near as well as they expect it too. The reasons they've won before wasn't because they were a low scoring grind it out team by choice. It was by necessity. Their guys are all streaky jumpshooters except for Rip who's an unstreaky jumpshooter. For an NBA offense to be consistent though, there needs to be some semblance of an inside presence to give outside guys some room, and there have to be a couple of guys who can get to the hole and to the line as well. I think Flip will be missing KG a whole bunch by December when all the fans (and the players) will be calling for his head.
Milwaukee Bucks- Bogut-Villanueva-Simmons-Redd-Williams. Points aplenty for sure, but I don't see any stoppers here either. Frankly, I'd like them more if they played in one of the other Eastern divisions, but somebody has to finish 5th here, so what are you gonna do? They're going to get taken to the woodshed against any team with an interior presence, but that's not as big of a deal as it sounds. The low post scorer has gone the way of the dodo I'm afraid so really the Bucks should be ready to contend within a couple of years.
Once again, the bench is an issue. Steve Blake, their backup point, looks like Dewey from Malcolm in the Middle. The only people in the building who have to worry about Ruben Patterson are the dance teams. It's basically Charlie Bell and nobody else back there as far as quality goes, and if I were them I'd give Ersan Ilyasova a real shot for some PT. The guy is young and raw, but has some serious skills. As far as Turkish forwards go, he'll have a much better career than Hedo Turkoglu when it's all said and done. I know, I know, I'm setting the bar really high there.
If everything breaks right for the Bucks they can finish 3rd. Whether it happens this year or next the Pistons will collapse. It's going to happen, it's a just a matter of how soon. And the Pacers have their well known issues with health and discipline. The real question is whether five playoff teams will come out of the Central once again. It could happen but the odds are against it. Some of these other clubs in the Atlantic and Southeast have to have some pride right? Well?