Hello everyone. How y'all doin? I am, like I imagine most of you, FLIPPIN' ECSTATIC about how the summer is going. Easily the most exciting off-season for us since 2002, and the reason for that is fairly obvious, no? It's really weird, actually, being me these days.
In the last three months 1) my favorite football team, the Eagles, had what was widely acknowledged as the most kickass off-season by any NFL team in a long, long time with just a sensational draft and a litany of shrewd trades and free agent signings where they filled pretty much every hole on the roster and they now have like ridiculous depth and explosive talent at every position; 2) I got a job I was shooting for and obsessing over forever (more on that below); 3) I met this jaw-droppingly beautiful girl whom I'm unfortunately sort of related to and have no shot whatsoever with but who cares she's jaw-droppingly beautiful, and 4) my favorite basketball team had what is widely acknowledged as the most kickass off-season in the NBA, shrewdly trading for a top-8 starting SF in Richard Jefferson, signing Antonio McDyess in free agency to finally give Timmy some help inside and finding DeJuan Blair, a PF out of Pitt who led college basketball in rebounds per 40 mins, offensive rebounds per 40 mins and PER waiting for them with the 37th pick in the draft. It's almost unfair how a team that already boasts three of the top 25 players in the NBA can improve itself so much in basically a month's time.
I feel like the Flying Spaghetti Monster is setting me up for an epic letdown, a bowl of pasta to the face if you will. Things are going too well, too according to script. I'm trying very hard to brace myself for what feels like an inevitable collapse. Like, what if Manu breaks his ankle while committing a dumb foul in Game 7 vs. the Lakers? What if Brian Westbrook's knee comes flying off during the first game of the season or Donovan McNabb throws eight picks in the NFC title game against the Saints or whoever? What if I turn out to be awful at my job or hate it? What if this girl goes back to Turkey and finds love and happiness and I never see her again?
What then, mis amigos?
If Regis asked me to state this person's gender for a million dollars, I admit, I'd be somewhat nervous.
Fortunately for you, of the four things above the jump, I have the most faith in the Spurs, based entirely on previous track record. Obviously, I don't want to set expectations too high and come off like some lame clueless homer fanboy, so I'm not going to predict a 98-0 record or anything, but I think like 84-19 is entirely possible, if the gang stays healthy.
In fact, I dare say more than any other opponent, health will be our biggest obstacle to winning that fifth ring in '09-10. Here, in order, are our real obstacles:
4) Eva Longoria
That's the thing about basketball. It's easily the most predictable of the major sports. Every season when I go into it knowing that the Spurs are the best team, they win. Every season where I'm hoping they're the best team, they don't. It's really that simple. All season in 2003, I knew. That team was just loaded in terms of depth, even if they never quite put it all together. In 2005, I knew. Adding Brent Barry to the big three in their primes? Good night, Aunt Sally. The Mohammad trade was just the little deadline trade that cinched it. And that 2007 team was motivated as hell to prove the Mavericks series was a fluke. They just refused to lose in the playoffs, even if they won some games ugly.
In 2004 the Spurs looked quite brilliant at times, but with the retirement of Robinson, no Claxton to serve as Parker spaz insurance and a young Turkoglu replacing Stephen Jackson, I had my doubts that they'd be able to hold off a Lakers team that added Karl Malone and Gary Payton, even if both of them were ancient. Plus, and I keep telling this to whoever talks about it, the 0.4 thing with Derek Fisher is the most overrated controversy for Spurs fans. Even if we got by LA, that Pistons team would've murdered us that year. They were deeper, hungrier, and they would've slaughtered us inside. The '04 Spurs were pretty soft. The Pistons didn't become a jump shooting team who were allergic to the paint until after they got their rings and were fat and happy with their success.
In 2006 the Spurs never looked quite right either. Finley and Van Exel were struggling mightily to fit in, Horry was content to nap through another regular season, seemingly confident that he would just magically be able to flip the switch again in May, Manu was in and out of the lineup with injuries and never looked quite right, Tim was battling plantar fasciitis all season, Pop flirted way too much with small ball and made the disastrous decision to bench Beno in favor of Van Excrement, and the Mavericks, led by ball bustin' Avery Johnson, finally learned to play a little defense.
While I still believe, and will always believe, to my dying day, that we were the better team, we weren't that much better. Pop's bungling of the series, combined with the atrocious refereeing in Games 3 and 4 (the most underrated controversy for Spurs fans that no one besides me every talks about) conspired to level the competition between the two teams.
We could've, and should've, beaten Dallas, but it wouldn't have necessarily proven anything. It would've been a little anti-climactic to spank the Suns without Amare Stoudemire afterward and then what? Sweeping Miami in the Finals?
Not so much.
We wouldn't have even faced Miami. We'd have to deal with the Pistons again, with them having having home court this time, and boy would they have been hungry to avenge 2005. Spurs fans forget that the '06 Pistons played with a chip on their shoulder the whole year, hellbent on one goal and one goal only: Beating the Spurs in the Finals. They slaughtered us in the two regular season games that year, winning each comfortably by 15 points. They would've been merciless inside and crushed us on the boards.
No one will ever, ever convince me that the Pistons' balloon didn't get deflated that year when the Spurs got eliminated by Dallas. It was as if their whole reason for being just vanished before their eyes. The Mavs stole Detroit's revenge. The Pistons were so shaken by the Spurs going down 3-1 to Dallas that they lost three straight second round games themselves, to a then mediocre Cavs team, before rallying to win that series. In the Conference Finals Miami punched them in the mouth early and the Pistons just didn't have the motivation in them to punch back. It was like a boxer training all year to fight Ali and then come the night of the fight Buster Douglas shows up instead. Their hearts just weren't in it.
I don't know about you, but I'd much rather see the Spurs lose in Round 2 than the Finals. I've seen my favorite baseball, football and hockey teams lose in the Finals, and that just all kinds of sucks.
As for the past two seasons, well you all know how those went. We were all hoping we weren't too old, too slow, too brittle, too unathletic, but in the end it was pretty obvious that our fears were well placed.
Anyway, I don't know about the rest of you, but on July 13th, 2009, I'm going on the record: I fully EXPECT the Spurs to win the championship. I'm not hoping we're the best team, I know we are. If our guys are healthy I expect the playoffs to be a mere formality. The rest of you can call me a jinx or an ass, or you can join me on the bandwagon. It's your choice.
So, with that bit of business out of the way, what else is going on in Stampler's world? Here's kind of a Peter King Monday Morning Quarterbackesque Top Ten Things I Think I Think:
1. I think it will be difficult for me to write much, if at all, on PtR for at least the first half of the year and perhaps a lot longer than that. I got this job for CBSSportsline.com, where through Bleacherreport.com they held a contest for 32 people to work as "correspondents" (basically beat guys) on the 32 NFL teams. They asked everyone to turn in an application, and then write some sample articles like a team preview, a profile on the coach, the top five reasons you think the team will be better or worse, and who on the team you would like to interview and which questions you would ask. Since I live in the Bay Area, I'll be covering the 49ers.
What this job entails is basically I will be paid to give 25 to 30 Twitter-like updates per day on everything I see and hear about the Niners. I will have to go to every practice and every presser from the start of training camp on, which starts in two weeks. I'll get paid decent scratch (for once, cough, Wayne, cough) to do this, which is nice. My boss, based in Florida, tells me that if I do a really good job, I might get hired full time so that I could turn this into a year round gig and cover the Warriors and maybe even the San Francisco Giants. We'll see.
What I'm fairly sure of, and will make absolutely certain of soon, is that as long as I have this job, I will be prohibited from writing for other sports websites, which PtR and its parent company SB Nation obviously includes. If my bosses tell me I can't do it, then I won't. I gotta get this "career" thing rolling sooner or later, unfortunately. Besides, it looks like Wayne is taking this blog to all sorts of new heights, so I doubt I'll be too missed. Living in the area, he's got all sorts of access I'll never get. Commenting as an outsider thousands of miles away, I can only do so much anyway, and I think I've kinda done all I can with the whole game recap thing. You can only write so many Tony Parker jokes.
The timing of it sucks for sure. I'm really, really looking forward to this season and would've liked to had the time and the forum to write about it, but I'll be lucky just to be able to find the hours to watch the games, let alone chronicle them. But we'll see what January brings.
2. I'm trying to talk myself into Antonio McDyess, just like I talked myself into Richard Jefferson. While I thought that Rasheed Wallace, and even Chris Andersen, would've been a better fit, McDyess offers a lot of positives. His PER of 16.63 in '08-09 was far superior to his previous season and easily bested 'Sheed's 14.91. He also rebounded far better, shot better from the field and even had a better assist rate. Neither was particularly durable (Wallace played 66 games, McDyess 62). And personality wise, McDyess would seem to be a better fit, as he has none. By all accounts the guy is a pro's pro and with him we don't have to worry about a bunch of technicals or indifferent play or blowups with the coach.
Unfortunately, there are some concerns with McDyess. He's got a long and well-chronicled injury history and he's going to be 35 going into the season. He's not the post defender or shot blocker that Wallace is. Most of all he won't give us the three point shooting that Pop likes from his power forwards (which means Rocket might still be a part of the rotation next year).
And then there are things like this, which really make you think. Why, despite all his tantrums, his non-stop petulance and all his three point chuckery, did seemingly all the Pistons play better with Wallace while with McDyess the steady professional they all played worse? Why were they +82 with Rasheed and -68 with Antonio? Why did the Pistons give up three points less with Wallace on the floor per 48 minutes and five points more with McDyess? All in all, I kind of wish I hadn't perused 82games.com when reading up about our newest acquisition.
At least it's an upgrade from Kurt Thomas, right?
3. I am very geeked about DeJuan Blair. I don't think I can state this strongly enough. I want to be his biggest booster, the way ATS is with Hill, except that I have no desire to feel his bulging muscles in a creepy postgame interview. We've needed a guy like Blair for a long, long time, and I'm hopeful that not only can Blair be our version of Bass, Landry or Millsap, but perhaps even better than them. The guy is a rebounding machine. My only worry with him is that his defensive shortcomings will give Pop an excuse to bury the rookie on the bench. I think rookies get in Pop's doghouse if they yell too loud while dunking, so not running back on defense is like a criminal offense.
4. Mahinmi needs to get his ass in gear. I don't give a shit that he hasn't played in a year and is rusty and Pop doesn't give two shits. No excuses Frenchy. Get out there, block some shots, grab an occasional rebound (if Blair lets you), and learn to do something on defense besides foul. No one cares how pretty your free throw stroke is. You're a Spur. Unless you're from Argentina and dreamy you're not supposed to be any good at freebies anyway. You are pretty much our best hope of not having Bonner be the third "big" in the rotation. For the love of all that is holy play with some urgency. For God sakes, your career is on the line. Don't you care at all?
/grabs Ian by the shoulders and shakes him.
5. Hopefully Malik Hairston's new found jumper wasn't a fluke. I can dream, can't I? Between Hairston and James Gist, I want someone, anyone to emerge as the backup small forward. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I want Michael Finley to be envious of the playing time Steve Smith got in the '02-03 season. Is that asking for too much?
6. Two words on the Marcus Haislip signing: Camp. Body. C'mon Marcus prove me wrong. I dare you. I think Jack McClinton has more of a chance to make the team than you do, and he sucked in his first game. I have no love for 6'11 guys who don't rebound.
7. I think Manu needs to be the sixth man again next year. There aren't going to be enough shots to go around with Tony, Tim, Tony, RJ, Tony, McDyess, and Tony. Let Mason start and let Manu come off the bench and play around with the youngsters. He and Hill can take turns every time down the floor being the "point guard" and running the pick-and-roll with Mahinmi/Blair or kicking it out to Bonner/Finley for open jumpers. Besides, Pop will be on red alert to keep Manu's minutes down anyway, so no sense in starting him.
8. I don't think any contenders in the NBA improved except for us. The Lakers doomed themselves with Artest, who stopped being an asset the second he started fancying himself as an offensive player. Oh and he's a lunatic. Losing Ariza and probably Odom and gaining Artest is, to me, like losing three guys. The Magic lost Hedo, plus Courtney Lee, just to gain Vinsanity, so they'll be worse. The Celtics won the 'Sheed sweepstakes, but lost Powe and will likely lose Big Baby Davis as well. Unless I missed something, they have no viable backups at point guard, shooting guard, small forward or center and are capped out. Oh, and their coach openly hates the starting point guard, which must be awkward.
Then there's Cleveland, who had the bright idea of improving their post defense by signing a 37-year old guy who weighs 350 lbs. and has not defended a pick-and-roll since roughly 2001. Somebody on Manu's website asked how Shaq will impact the Cavs and Manu responded that he'll make them "heavier."
¿Cómo ves a los Cavs este año con Shaq?
Con más peso! ;-)
It's in Spanish, but I hope the translation is literal. How can anyone not love Manu Ginobili?
9. I really don't understand the Marion acquisition for the Mavs. Now they have three forwards, and I don't think any of them will want to be a backup. Are they going to make Dirk a center? Move The Big Bug over to the two guard (giving the Mavs two wingmen who can't dribble)? Or is this a precursor to them trading Howard? Whatever is going on over there, I'm glad that Orlando matched Marcin Gortat's offer sheet because I like that guy and didn't want Dallas to have him.
10. I think I won't be going to Mexico again anytime soon. Me and my family went to Club Med in Cancun to celebrate my mom's 50th and my uncle's 40th birthdays last week. In Cancun I...
a) ate like a pig at the buffet twice a day for a week (lotsa veggies though).
b) visited some Mayan ruins in Tulum where it was crazy hot.
c) got awful, awful sunburn on my shoulders and triceps (on my last day I had to peel my body off my bed).
d) bought a Mayan-themed chess set.
e) learned to play backgammon, again.
f) went to a club where the hottest girl was I think maybe 14 years old (it was a family Club Med).
g) discovered again that the French accent is alluring in women and annoying as all hell in men.
h) learned I have no aptitude at all for water skiing.
i) got killed by Manoli in tennis 6-2, 6-4.
j) accidentally injured Manoli and my uncle in a touch football game (the former ran into a soccer goal post trying to catch one of my passes, the latter went reeling sideways onto a flower bed after I pushed him too hard).
k) got to go snorkeling in a cave and banged my ankle on a stalactite and almost got decapitated by a stalagmite.
l) bought an Eagles poncho.
m) discovered the world's most perfect swimming water in some lagoon, where there was no salt, no chlorine and it was just the right temperature - cold but not freezing. It was like the kind of water they use in cologne commercials where some guy with an incredible body emerges from it with his arms spread in triumph.
n) made my sunburn worse at a water park where it was approximately 149 degrees. My favorite ride was standing under this mushroom where it's just a shower of cold water pouring on you. It was the only time I wasn't in agony. My least favorite ride was this thing called the "Sea Bowl" where you basically experience the sensation of being flushed down a toilet to land ass over tea kettle in a nine foot pool.
o) ruined my cell phone by first forgetting it in my pocket at the water park and then by trying to fix it by sticking it inside the toaster at the buffet. Previously when I had gotten it wet Amanda had fixed it for me by drying it in her toaster oven. Little did I realize that toasters are much hotter than toaster ovens. I basically melted the phone.
p) also, Amanda had the sense to, you know, remove the data chip first before putting the phone in the oven. I did not.
So, the same idiot who first drowned, then melted his phone is the guy telling you that he's confident the Spurs will win it all next year, so you've got that going for you. Enjoy the rest of the off-season everybody!