Thursday, June 19, 2014

Lets Make a Deal

The basketball world continues to wait, with bated breath, to find out what Lebron James will decide this summer. Does he opt out, and test free agency? Does he return to Miami at a discount, allowing the Heat some cap flexibility? Or does he opt in for one more year, only to revisit the same decisions a year from now. But I’m not going to talk about that. Because I have figured out a way for Kobe Bryant to potentially win his 6th ring. A ring that’s very important to Bryant, because it would give him as much jewelry as Michael Jordan.

The catch, and Laker fans will hate this, but they’ll have to trade Kobe Bean Bryant. A Laker for 18 season, who was widely criticized for the pricey extension he signed with the Lakers this past season, could do more to help the team by requesting a trade than he can do by playing out his remaining years. No matter how good he is upon his return from injuries, his contract has the Lakers handcuffed for the next two seasons.

I realize trading an icon like Kobe would upset the fan base, and generally I hate the idea of seeing icons change teams. While we like to pretend it’s a newer phenomenon, it simply isn’t. We saw Michael Jordan in a Wizards uniform and we saw Karl Malone in a Laker uniform. Patrick Ewing went on to Seattle and then Orlando, and Hakeem Olajuwon finished his career in Toronto.

So here’s the trade:

The Lakers trade Kobe Bryant to the New York Knicks and in return, they receive both A’mare Stoudemire and Andrew Bargnani.

I get it, you think this sounds like a horrible trade. Why would the Lakers want those two bums? Well, I can’t say they’d want them, but here are a couple of reasons why they should. First of all, it makes them worse. What, they should want to get worse? Absolutely. Getting this bad is a great move. Unless there’s a miracle, the 2014-15 Lakers should be the worst in the NBA. That guarantees them a top four pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. And the real keys to this trade are the expiring contracts of both Stoudemire and Bargnani. Trading Kobe allows the Lakers to free up $36 million for the 2015 season. When, potentially, Lebron James could be a free agent as well as Kyrie Irving. The Lakers could afford both of them, team them up with two recent lottery picks and still have plenty of cap space to fill out a competitive roster.

And here is why Kobe Bryant should want to be traded to the Knicks. He would be reunited with Phil Jackson, who is now team President. He would be playing for his good friend, and first year coach, Derek Fisher and alongside his buddy, Carmelo Anthony. But wait, there’s more. Derek, Phil and Kobe could basically get the band back together. Pau Gasol is a free agent, and could sign with the Knicks for the veteran minimum. Lamar Odom, who finished last season with the Knicks, could also sign for the veteran minimum. The Knicks are rumored to have an interest in Spurs back-up point guard, Patty Mills.
Potentially, the 2014-15 Knicks starting lineup could be:

PG- P.Mills
SG- K.Bryant
SF- C.Anthony
PF- P.Gasol
C- T.Chandler

Along with a bench that would include Iman Shumpert, JR Smith and Lamar Odom. They probably wouldn’t win 55 games, but no one wants to see that team in the playoffs.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Net Loss

NBA All-Stars teaming up in Miami, we’ve seen this movie already, right? Well, sequels to big budget productions are as predictable as a Michael Wilborn name-drop on “PTI.” The sports world is abuzz with talk of Knick forward, Carmelo Anthony, joining up with his besties in South Beach. Making the “Big 3” the “Fab 4” aka, the Heatles.

So every sports radio talk show, website and sports related twitter feed are on fire. Most everyone is adamantly against this union. Minus those who are Heat fans, of which there’s maybe 30,000 legit Heat fans and another 3,000,000 enjoying their spot on the bandwagon. Of course, as a Knick fan, I think this is a horrible idea. Losing your best player in 20 years is almost always a negative, and having him join a conference rival that already has the best player in the game (maybe ever. Yes, I said it) isn’t exactly raising my expectations for the Knicks. I don’t care how many rings Phil Jackson has in his closet.

This potential union is bigger than the Knicks. It would also be bigger than the NBA. What? No single player, or team is bigger than the sport. Well, yes. That’s always been the case. While the “Big 3” shifted the balanced of the league for four seasons, uniting four members of the 2012 Olympic team is a whole new monster. Ultimately, it would be bad for the game of basketball.

On one hand, any time there’s a historically great team playing, it’s good for the sport. No matter what sport it is. The Yankees of the late 90’s, Jordan’s Bulls, Showtime, the Celtics, and Brady’s Patriots. They were all among the greatest teams in their respective sports, and put fannies in the seats and television’s tuned in. Just as we saw when Lebron initially took his talent to South Beach.  

And “the Decision” had a greater impact, than just further breaking Cleveland’s heart into a million more pieces. Chris Paul first tried to join Carmelo and A’mare Stoutemire in New York, before changing his focus to joining Kobe and Pau on the Lakers. A move the NBA itself blocked, before shipping him off to the Clippers. So Dwight Howard joined the Lakers, along with future Hall of Famer, Steve Nash. That didn’t work out, so Howard went to Houston. The Rockets had recently acquired James Harden from the Thunder, because they couldn’t afford to sign him to a long term deal. Turns out, they dealt him a year too soon for a ton too little. But that’s neither here nor there. For now. Kevin Love has asked out of Minnesota, and the belief is that he is looking for a chance to join a winning team. The point is, the league changed. Superstar players are trying to join forces. It was the only way to remain competitive. And the money remained largely unchanged. The best players were going to get their max deals.

But for Melo to join James, Wade and Bosh in Miami, all four players will have to take significant pay-cuts. I’m not saying just a million or two (how can you ever say “just a million or two” and not throw up?). No, they’ll have to take over 50% in pay cuts to make it work under the NBA salary cap. In the end, they’ll each have to give up between $50 and $70m. But shouldn’t we applaud them? Shouldn’t we appreciate that four friends want to work together and live in a beautiful city, while making millions of dollars? Sounds good like a pretty good gig to me.

And this is where I start questioning if this whole idea is really that bad. As fans, we’ve become accustom to calling athletes greedy.  But we can’t say that if this happens. We can’t say they don’t care about winning, just their stats and paychecks, if they’re willing to sacrifice so much just to win. Even if they’re creating a super team and also depleting the level of the competition as a direct result of joining forces. Like when Hulk fought alongside Iron Man and Thor in the Avengers. It made them a whole lot stronger, and they didn’t have to worry about fighting the Hulk anymore. Win-win, right?

Only not so much. We saw the stars of league quickly trying to team up in sets of threes after “The Decision” and if there’s a sequel, the rest of the league will have to act accordingly. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook can’t compete without teaming up with two additional great players. Kobe, who would love to do it alone, would have to play nice in someone else’s sandbox. Basically, the rest of the league has to put together their “Superman V Batman” cast, just as Zac Snyder is trying to do in Hollywood to compete with the Marvel Universe.

This could really be a great thing, if we weren’t such a greedy society. Rather than 30 NBA teams, imagine a league of 10 teams. 10 rosters filled up with the best of the best. The level of competition would be insane, although there wouldn’t be a team in Oklahoma City or Portland. There could be a second league, and maybe players could play their way into the top tier. I’ve long thought that all four of the professional leagues should contract some teams. It’s one of those situations, where less really is more. Less teams would mean the remaining teams would have more talent.

After thinking it all through, I’d like to stand at the wedding and object. Not because it’s unfair, or because it kills any chance my Knicks have of winning a title, but for the same reasons I object to Time Warner and Comcast merging. Or Sprint and T-Mobile, okay, bad example. That one is purely personal. Corporate mergers make for boring news and even more boring basketball. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Oh Cramp

The sports world has lost its collective mind after Lebron James left game one of the NBA finals with cramps. The image is pretty powerful, seeing a guy as massive as James, hobbled and reaching for his left leg. And while everyone that has ever experienced a cramp, can tell you how painful it can be, it just doesn’t look the same as a broken leg nor does it show up under an MRI like a torn Achilles. So this morning, social media and sports talk radio is all abuzz.

The first, and obvious comparison, is Michael Jordan. Jordan supporters are quick to claim that cramps would never sideline the great MJ. Hey, we all saw him play in the “flu game” where he battled a temperature of 103 in game 5 of the 1997 Finals. Jordan played 44 minutes and scored 38 minutes, and the iconic images of him slouching on the bench and later falling into Scottie Pippen’s arms are etched into the Mount Rushmore of sports images.

But it’s easy to wax poetic about the great Jordan. The truth is, no player has ever entered the NBA and been asked to carry as much weight as Lebron from game one. Accounting for college games, regular season, playoff and Olympic Games; Lebron has played more minutes than Michael, Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson. Kobe has played in 6 more games, but over 200 less minutes. And basketball-reference doesn’t have all the minutes played in Olympic Games, which is worth noting because through age 29 Lebron played 24 games in the Olympics compared to 8 from Kobe.

Jordan, Magic and Kobe are three of the all-time greats. I’d rank all of them in my top five, but none of them are built like Lebron. All that muscle, along with being as athletic as any of them, and all the time he has spent on the court, has to take a toll. Cramps aren’t about mental toughness or being soft, as many are now hinting. Lebron is simply unlucky that he’s more susceptible to cramping, just as some of us mere mortals are prone to debilitating migraines.

If the Heat end up losing the series, James’ legacy will forever be tainted because of he unfortunately cramped up last night. And we’ll continue to praise Jordan, who actually retired twice after winning an NBA championship. Yet we never seem to question his heart or commitment. We’ll tell our grandkids about Magic Johnson, and frankly, his lack of discipline off the court quite possibly lead to him retiring at the age of 31. And we’re awed by the laser like focus Kobe Bryant showed, while standing trial for the rape of a teenage girl in Colorado. Somehow, that kind of focus is considered admirable. I’ve had my issues with Kobe, and I’ve come around to the point that I’d actually call myself a bit of a Kobe fan. But let’s be honest, assuming he’s innocent, there’s something scary about someone being able to compartmentalize like that. The very day he plead not-guilty in court, he flew to San Antonio and scored 42 points. He was facing 20 years to life in prison. I don’t mean to make this about Kobe, and what did or didn’t happen in Colorado, but that’s just bizarre.

We shouldn’t be questioning Lebron’s heart today. We should be upset that an unfortunate electronic malfunction robbed us of what could have been a game for the ages. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Chef Review: Swingers, All Growns Up

One of my all-time favorite movies, is now legally, an adult. So it’s perfect, that the all growns up version was just released. Jon Favreau reclaimed all the heart, soul and sweetness that made Swingers the perfect movie for a single guy in his 20’s, and used those ingredients along with some added maturity, to cook up another gem with Chef. C’mon, I had to make some kind of cooking analogy.

Chef is the story of a famous LA chef, has a blow up in the most 2014 way possible after a negative, and personal, review from an even more famous food blogger. Beginning with a tweet war he can’t win, and ending with a viral video of a meltdown. It costs him, not just his job, but his pride. All the while, he’s unable to see just how badly his son is trying to connect with him.

With his tale between his legs, he ends up taking his ex-wife’s advice (Sofia Vegara) and opens up a food truck. He hits the road with his loyal sous chef (John Leguizamo, who should really be a bigger star by now) and his son, to find his creative edge again and the adoration of his son.

Like in Swingers, Favreau introduces us to a subculture that is much cooler than we ever thought. His music choices, as well as how he utilizes a song in a scene, is perfect. Much of it has an oddly familiar feel, only you just can’t remember where you’ve heard it before. I played the hell out of my Swingers soundtrack from 1996 through the end of the decade, and before I made it home from the movie last night, I had the Chef soundtrack playing on Spotify. Of course I was at a red light.

Making Chef, in 2014, took real courage. The world has changed an awful lot since 1996, when Swingers was an indie darling. The personal story has been replaced by well-produced, big budget comic book movies. Favreau has changed just as much, he’s no longer the fat guy you recognize from Rudy or Vince Vaughn’s wingman. Now he’s the director and producer of the best comic book movies (Iron Man, Iron Man 2. produced Iron Man 3 and Avengers). Chef is every bit as personal as Swingers, only the priorities have changed. Beautiful babies, last minute trips to Vegas, and getting over the girl have been replaced, ironically enough by responsibilities. Find a job, be a good dad, make ends meet, and get happy. Loyalty, in the grownup world, means telling someone to not follow you out the door to unemployment, but telling them to stay and take advantage of the opportunity. Keeping your rep because someone bumped into your friend and didn’t apologize, that’s for kids. And so are K-cars.

I am a notoriously picky eater, but Chef did more to make various foods appeal to me than anything else ever has. Do yourself a flavor, and go check out the feel good movie of the summer. (That has to end up on a poster, right?)