Thursday, May 17, 2007

Hoop Hoopla

Things we thought would never happen: 1) Peyton Manning wins a Super Bowl; 2) Gas prices go above $3 a gallon; 3) Kurt blogs about the NBA. It's time to scratch all three off the list...

Let me start by saying I know jack about NBA basketball. I like college basketball infinitely better. College basketball is a purer game, its more fun to watch, the players just seem to enjoy what they're doing better, and the fans are more passionate. However, with all the controversy over the Spurs/Suns series in the playoffs, it made me realize that sometimes NBA basketball can be fun to watch.

The thing that has been the most fun about the Spurs/Suns series is the physicality of the play. Steve Nash gets a bloody nose, Steve Nash gets hip checked into the scorers table, Steve Nash doesn't fight back, and the Suns are down 3 games to 2. NBA basketball is rarely this physical, and rarely this fun, so this is a series we have to enjoy while it lasts. The Spurs are out to win a war of attrition with the Suns, and so far, it's working.

The controversy arose in game 4. With 18.2 seconds left, Nash (the Suns point guard), dribbled up court to try and end the game. As he came up court, he was hip checked into the scorers table by the Spurs' Robert Horry (more or less a role player). This did not sit well with the Suns, and two players, Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw, came onto the court from the bench area. The result: a 2 game suspension for Horry, and a 1 game suspension for each of Stoudemire and Diaw.

This seems like it would hurt the Spurs more on the surface, since their player got a two-gamer. However, Horry is a role player, and not a critical part of the team. For that matter, so is Diaw. The problem the Suns have is the suspension of Stoudemire. With Stoudemire on the bench for game 5 (which the Suns lost), they had 23 points per game on the bench. Consequently, the Suns only lost by 3. The Spurs only had 6 points on the bench, for comparison sake.

The Suns made a huge stink over suspending a star for one playoff game for simply leaving the bench area during an altercation. The rules of the NBA, which were re-written following the fan brawl in Detroit, say that people on the bench cannot come onto the court during an altercation. Doing so results in a one-game suspension, so the NBA is simply being consistent. I think the bigger problem the Suns had was who was suspended.

Amare Stoudemire is an All-Star, All-NBA player. He represents roughly half of the Suns, with the other half being taken up by Steve Nash. Losing him most definitely cost the Suns game 5, but perhaps he should have considered that before going after Horry during game 4. The Suns' losing of Stoudemire actually helped to prove a theory I have about NBA basketball.

The key to winning in the NBA rests with two people: the point guard/ shooting guard, and the big man inside. The Suns have Nash and Stoudemire. The Detroit Pistons have Chauncy Billups and Rasheed Wallace. The Chicago Bulls have Kirk Hinrich and Ben Wallace. The team that will win the championship, the San Antonio Spurs, have the deadly three headed monster: guards Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, and big man Tim Duncan. The Spurs simply loaded their roster better than any other, and will win the championship because of it.

This theory of mine is what makes the NBA less fun than NCAA basketball. In college, you need a whole team to win (a la Florida). You cannot survive with only a guard and a big man and 3 role players. That formula is the long kept secret of the NBA, however. Case in point, Kobe and Shaq. The Lakers ran the table three years because they had a good guard and a dominant big man. Last year, the Heat did the same thing. The Pistons did it with Billups and Wallace. The one anomaly is the Houston Rockets with Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming. They can't win because McGrady is a choke artist. More proof lies in teams that don't have both elements. The Cleveland Cavaliers have Lebron, not much else, and no championships. The 76ers had Allen Iverson forever, and never won with just him. The Denver Nuggets now have Iverson and Carmelo Anthony, but no big man to balance them out. The Minnesota Timberwolves have Kevin Garnett, but no guard to help him. The formula is quite simple.

So after all the hoopla and the Suns get Stoudemire back, it still won't matter, because the Spurs have simply played the NBA roster loading game better. They have twice as many guards as they need, and that will carry them as far as they need. I'm done talking about the NBA now, because I've figured the whole thing out.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

O's Rhymes With "Woes"?... You Don't Say

I'm back from my travels (hooray!). I can post with some regularity again (hooray!). I'll kick off my welcome back tour with a post about the Orioles (booooo!).

The only thing more frustrating than watching the Orioles lose a game is listening to the Orioles lose a game. That was the case for me on Sunday. Somewhere in the foothills of Tennessee, I found myself listening to the O's- Red Sox game on an XM Satellite Radio. Things seemed good. The O's were winning, I wasn't missing a pitch, the mountains were barely interrupting the broadcast. Unfortunately, due to XM's agreement with Major League Baseball, the XM broadcast is the broadcast as told by the hometeam's radio crew. I had to listen to the game from the viewpoint of the Red Sox's (Red Sox'? Red Sock?) radio team.

Before I go bird-bashing, let me say that for a franchise that has had as much success in the past couple of years as the Red Sox, I have never heard a broadcast that has so much self pity and as big an inferiority complex as the Boston broadcast. The announcers would constantly defend their team's lackluster performance of a year ago with the caveat that many players were hurt. "The team had injury problems all last year" they would say. Boo-friggin'-hoo. Every team has injury problems. Perhaps the reason your team missed the playoffs is that they weren't that good. With the Sux down 3-0 for the majority of the game, the announcers would wallow in self pity and say that "the wind just hasn't been helping the team out today". They said the reason the Sux hadn't scored any runs was because the wind was blowing hard toward home plate and knocking down any hard hit balls. Then they played the biased mother nature card and said that the wind only blew had toward home plate when the Sox were batting, and not the Orioles. So here they are, getting beat by an admittedly inferior team, and they blame everything but themselves. And I was happy.

Then the wheels fell off the wagon in so many ways my head hurt. First, the XM Radio stopped working. No warning, no wavering, just a nice POOF, and it was done. Apparently, it knew what was lurking in the ninth inning. Once my broadcast was blacked out (with the O's ahead 3-0, I might add), I figured things would work out. Jeremy Guthrie was pitching nicely, the hitters were holding their own, and the Sox were getting shut out. It wasn't until I caught the final score of the game in a hotel room in Bristol, Virginia that my heart was wrenched.

Those who saw the game or the lowlights or just know how the Orioles operate know the rest of the story. It is too painful for me to repeat. It bummed me put for a little while, and I started thinking "Woe are the Orioles. The baseball gods hate us". And then two things hit me: 1) saying that makes me no better than the Red Sox jabberwocky announcers; 2) the Orioles have brought all of this upon themselves, and the real woe is the Oriole fan.

What happened to a franchise that was once so proud? The team that had Cal Ripken, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Earl Weaver, Mark Bellanger, the list goes on and on. The team that went wire to wire in 1997 and looked unbeatable in the playoffs. How did things get this bad? Is it too easy to blame a curse?

The answer is yes, it is entirely too easy to say we're cursed. I've heard rumblings about a Camden Curse or a Davey Johnson Curse, but that's too easy. We haven't done anything in the last ten years to prove the existence of a curse. For example, let's pretend like we have a Camden Curse. Did signing Albert Belle, Marty Cordova, David Segui, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, and Jaret Wright whilst jettisoning Gary Matthews, John Maine, and B.J. Ryan do anything to break that curse? Did we even put ourselves in position to break any potential curses? Hell no. It's not a curse at this point, because we haven't done anything to prove that it is. If we had a lineup that looked more like the All-Star team and we still weren't winning, then maybe it could be something supernatural. And don't get me wrong, I'd would love for it to be something supernatural, because life would be easier. But the reality is, it's probably more like a cancer than a curse.

The Orioles managed to kill themselves over the last ten years from the inside. Peter Angelos thinks entirely too much in the short term. He's like a little kid who is offered candy if they clean their room, and accept in order to get the candy right away, without realizing that the consequence of taking the candy is cleaning your room. The O's have jumped at so many "big-name" (read big-money) free agents over the years that haven't panned out that all we can do is point the fingers back at ourselves. The consequences of signing the Belles and Cordovas and Palmeiros has been our inability to have any money left over (in our considerably shallow pockets, I might add) to go after a Vladimir Guererro or Alfonso Soriano.

Yet it all seemed like it would be different this year. We have youth throughout the team, we have a likable, home-grown manager, and we have a star in the making to build the future around. And we still suck. They lack heart. When it comes down to it, they are emotionless, playing like zombies with a leather glove on. They win a game with a walk-off homerun, and everybody crowds the plate and congratulates the hitter because they have to, not because they are genuinely excited about winning. The idea of winning draws little excitement amongst the players, because what's the difference? They've lost games for years and no one has cared. Even when they win, nobody is there to see it. The "franchise" down the road stole half the fans. So why bother trying to win? The manager and coaches seem disinterested, and the owner is too busy paying people to count his money, so why try to win? Any Oriole can simply go through the motions just long enough to draw the attention of a winning team, and request a trade or let their contract expire, and then finally play for a winner. So why try winning for the Orioles?

It's that exact attitude that makes the fans of the Orioles the victim in it all. The players aren't the victim. The emotionless oil painting that manages the team isn't the victim. The owner couldn't care much less. The only people who do care are the fans that continually get shafted. Sunday after the game was the first time any of us have ever seen Sam Perlozzo get mad. He has coached the team for almost two whole years, and never once has shown emotion like he did on Sunday. Sure, Sunday's loss hurt, but every loss hurts, because that's all it takes for the fans to say "here we go again". The Orioles (the whole miserable organization) need to start taking losing seriously in order to take winning seriously. Every fan in Baltimore laughs at the prospect of winning because it's absolutely preposterous. Losing is the way it is here (during the summer, anyway) because winning is a punch line.

The situation has gotten so bad that even non-Oriole fans can't take it anymore.'s John Donovan released his new power rankings, and had the Orioles at #20 (too high, to be sure). The comment: "How can you lose a game like Sunday's? It's sickening. A dropped infield popup. A blown toss play to the pitcher covering first. The decision to pull the starter in the first place. Man, the O's are maddening." A little background on Mr. Donovan: he got his start as a journalist in Phoenix, and has worked prior to in Guam, Florida, Kentucky, and Ohio. He seemingly has no vested interest in the Orioles, and yet even he is "sickened" and "maddened". It has gotten so bad that people who don't even care about the Orioles care more than the Orioles.

The only comforts for Baltimore nowadays: Raven's minicamp starts in like a month; the Ravens drafted very well, as usual; the Orioles will be mathematically eliminated by the All-Star break, and losses like Sunday's and even Monday's won't matter, yet again. The only comfort for me nowadays? The XM radio stopped working and I didn't have to hear the end of Sunday's debacle through the sounds of Red Sox nation.