Posted on: December 22, 2009 9:19 pm
Edited on: December 22, 2009 11:14 pm

Paid in Full: Atlanta Hawks.

The Atlanta Hawks take the court against the Timberwolves. Al Horford tries a 20-footer, Marvin Williams works his stroke to shake his shot from refridgeration. A layup in transition misses resulting in a Joe Johnson tip-in. The offense is taking it's first strides, but there is no need. This squad is already first in flight with a 16-to-4 run. Within the first fix minutes of basketball, the Wolves were forced into turning the ball over six times. Mike Woodson stands along the sideline taking steady steps between his bench and the scorers table. like every other game, he watches the team he assembled from scratch. Josh Smith picks up his second foul voices his frustration and takes his seat. A few assistants talk the young man down as Zaza Pachulia takes his place inside the paint. Zaza comes from a bench filled with gunslingers and potent role players, some of which are well-payed with enough talent to start elsewhere. But they like what they got going on here.

The Hawks are looking great. But last year had a similar start as they went undefeated for as long as the Lakers did. This team is so dynamic in that they have an All-NBA Second Team superstar talent, a proven point guard who stays productive past his prime, a coach that knows how to get the most defensive effort, and a handful of intangibles. That is the very makeup of a 2nd round team. The Hawks play the right way, and when they execute they can be a match for any team in the association. As the closing minutes of the 1st Quarter dwindle, the Hawks 52% shooting from the field looks to build as Jamal Crawford and Maurice Evans spread the floor to set up Horford.

The Hawks can dive to the inside, spread out zones with sharp-shooting, take flight and outrun the opponent on both ends of the floor as Mike Woodson taught them to do well, or they can isolate and let Joe Johnson try to become a hero. And by all means is Johnson the captain of the ship, a solid 20 ppg guy who can clean up in rebounds and assists when called upon. He takes his time and finds his role, game-by-game, and although he may not be the most consistent scorer among the superstar swingmen we've seen in the NBA. His work ethic on the court is what has my respect.

But the captain is not always the leader, nor are they always the center of a team's inspiration, nor are they the embodiment of a team's character. Superstar-caliber play doesn't always guarantee that feeling of brotherhood the two guards may get when setting the springs of a half court trap, or the seamless pocket created by the forwards and center when boxing out for boards. In other words, Joe Johnson is not the one that sets the Hawks in flight, the credit falls on the child with highest hops and widest wingspan.

When my eye falls over the hardwood, I see Josh Smith as an All-Star. I see the identity of the Atlanta Hawks through him. Everyone acts differently when he takes the court, adjusting themselves for his presence. An absolute freak of nature first showcased in the 2005 Slam Dunk contest when he defeated an Amare Stoudemire that oop'ed the off-the-forehead and off-the-heels alley's of the mighty MVP that was Steve Nash. You still see that when he gets a baseline to cut through, or a step on a dribble around his defender --utilizing an uncanny speed for a man of his size-- putting any and all opponents in the paint at his mercy. Josh Smith is a high and a bad trip, an exploding force that at times runs the risk of self-destruction, he is magician and a monster. But this year he's leading the league with 2.4 blocks--every swat sparking an Atlanta fast break-- a night, 1.7 steals, 50% shooting, and a solid 15 ppg to compliment an already potent offense. He's got my vote for the all-star team, even though I'm certain he's got a longshot considering how many great forwards run in the east. And I certainly do admit that there are times I think he's playing great, only to glance at the boxscore and wondering if I'm being lied to. And I do cringe when he spots up for 3's. I -hate- his jumpshot. Watching him settle for J's has me not envying Mike Woodson's job who must show the forgiveness of the prodigal son's father. But with that said, I believe that when it all boils down to ATL hoops, Josh Smith is their muse.

We've seen him scream at officials, publicly throw tantrums with Woodson, rack up some fouls both personal and technical, and let rage thorn the execution that this Hawks squad lives and dies by. But if you ask me, it's part of the game. It's part of his game. And that's exactly why Woodson has to often resort to tough love. Now with a shaved head as a result of a lost bet he made with his team to make the playoffs in 2008, an angered Woodson reminds me of Steve Harvey, but it's all part of this team's dynamic. Talent need their intangibles in order to succeed.

Even though this team is getting a lot out of their veterans like Bibby, Evans, and Crawford, this is still a team of potential. Aside from a team that is now executing this is a team that will evolve. They made their mistakes, like drafting Marvin Williams over Chris Paul and Deron Williams, or trading Pau Gasol for Shareef Abdur-Rahim you could argue, but they've put it all behind them for the sake of the fight. This team has an identity that sees success even when they have yet to find themselves.

If these trends show consistency, an explosive bench of Evans/Crawford's scoring, Joe Johnson's versatilities, Josh Smith's energy, and a defense looking to smother from inside and out as passionately without the ball as they can with it, this team is going to do more than the 2nd round sweeping they suffered to the Cavaliers last May. The Atlanta Hawks will receive a well-deserved raise.

Posted on: December 16, 2009 5:20 pm
Edited on: December 16, 2009 6:25 pm

To Go Beyond Ann Meyers.

My love for basketball is as deep within the redness of my blood as my love for Sonic The Hedgehog, Street Fighter II Turbo, Marisa Tomei's acting, and sushi with sake on a saturday night. My belief in the game goes beyond a board of numbers that say who scores, steals, or rebounds. The goal of the game is simple, score more than the guys in the other colors, you can follow these standards even with the simplicity of playing the shirts against the skins. You can understand it with a Japanese tongue, a southern accent, or through the rhythmic poetics of hip-hop that shake the sidewalks with echoing bass. You can grind out every game with the edge of your elbow, thugging-out the space of the key, or you can say showtime and leave the defenders at the dust of your heels with a fast break. It's all part of the game not in ways that are right or wrong, but complimentary to going about that goal.

As Red taught us through the hardware he wore at the capacity of his hands, good basketball is about playing the right way. But as times change with the players in ways that have brought us longer shorts, sharper bounce passes to split through seams that were once thought to have never existed, three-point bombardments from greater distances, we realize that the team finding "the right way" to play starts with finding their own. For instance there was my case. As a kid, I learned basketball through fundamentals. Fundamentals for a point guard that got downright boring like turning your back to the defender at the top of the key and waiting for the forwards to unfold themselves for the next step of the play. And then one day as I sat along the sidelines awaiting my downs on a pick-up game, I asked myself what could happen if I was the quickest thing on the court. And that's when I experienced the joy of beating someone off the dribble dipping my feet into the paint to draw the bigs out leaving the doors behind them open for the back-cutting teammates. That's when I always kept an eye out on the perimeter to beat any and all cherry-pickers to the basket forcing them to earn their keep. In 90% of the games I have played, I have been the shortest and far from the strongest.

Decades ago the only advice on the sport they would have given me was to drop the ball and yield the hardwood to the tallest people around. A man of my stature, regardless of my skill, would have been the wrong way to play basketball. But then the game saw the crossover dribble, the pistol with the number 44, Steve Nash's MVP runs, positionless offenses that spread the ball to dismantle a zone defense one pass at a time. Even larger players began to sharpen up their skills. From Magic Johnson and Hedo Turkoglu, 6'10 players with handles, to the Dirk Nowitzki's and Rashard Lewis' that compliment their height with the range of their shot. The game of basketball will always be about change.

And that's all David Stern's trying to say with his comment about females mixing it up into the association. I'm sure it got a whole bunch of writers throwing fits, sent shivers down the spines of all the fine shock-jocks we know and not love, and may have served to deepen grudges people already have with the commish. Let me just relay the quote here: "I think we might," said Stern. "I don't want to get into all kinds of arguments with players and coaches about the likelihood. But I really think it's a good possibility."

Let me first and foremost say that I don't follow the WNBA, I just think Candace Parker is hot. And at this given time I don't think anyone in that league is ready to play at an NBA-level and certainly not within the next 10 years. But maybe, maybe , they're NBDL level. After all, a lot of the NBDL consists of flat-footed centers and those that live and die by the offerings of their three-point ambitions. There may be girl ballers that can play the game with more dimensions than a handful of male ballers who hold their sweat-drenched headbands in anticipation of a 10-day contract with an NBA team.

What Stern says, about the game coming into that change, is something I once witnessed at my high school where the girls won 5 state championships over a span of 6 years. The guys were okay but their games at best only drew about a third of the crowd the girls team guaranteed at every showing. It was the pride of the faculty, even half the school's students traveled upstate with their families to watch them dominate. No one in a gym class said anything against them balling among us in full-court pick up games. They just went to a different locker room when the day was done. I even dueled one in a scrimmage and found myself out-classed and out-scored with steam arising from my shaken ankles.

But of course the NBA is the best-of-the-best. And if you ain't got it, you're not going to get it. We all know that. And I might not even be the best basketball player here at the CBS office. I know that too. But as someone who has seen the reflection of his own personality through his inconsistent jump-shot, I also know that the game is going to change. What it will change with remains a mystery.
At this given time Diana Taurasi can't guard a backup point or even one that's on injured reserve. Chris Quinn, Speedy Claxton, Acie Law, and even Stephon Marbury fresh after a UStream marathon may still be better options. But Diana Taurasi is far from an Apex of a dream, perhaps she's more of a glass ceiling. One that, once surpassed, will take the girl-ballers to a new level. Already Candace Parker is so ridiculous that no one pays any attention to her husband's career. He comes off the bench for the Kings and went to Duke by the way. Skills will sharpen, IQ's will increase, shots will rain from the skies, Stern is saying that the dream is not dead.

In fact, on the subject of women getting drafted: it actually did happen. Twice really.

In 1977, Lusia Harris was drafted by the New Orleans Jazz. Ann Meyers, a 3-time All-American for UCLA was also drafted and actually signed by the Indiana Pacers in 1979 but was released before the start of the season. Women playing in the NBA already could have happened. I can say beyond any shade of doubt that David Stern knows of this. And maybe that's why I'm laughing at all the people hating on his comment.

So this is to every girl that has broken the ankle of a male defender with a shift of a dribble. To all the ladies splashing J's on the asphault and on the hardwood. To every woman that has to learn to shoot with both sized basketballs. Keep your head up, keep scoring, keep talking trash, and just keep doing your thing. Some of you may find the right way.

And some of you might be as hot as Candace Parker too.

Posted on: August 25, 2009 6:52 pm
Edited on: August 25, 2009 6:56 pm

Michael Beasley and The Sophomore Struggle.

I take a day off from the wonderful world of sports. I get a little sun, do a little writing, drink 2 screwdrivers and get owned online in Madden because I just don't know what I'm doing with Jake Delhomme.

Then in the middle of the night, I get a text message from an old trusted friend about how the Heat season is hopeless. Being an admirer of the organization since Pat Riley flew down here from New York and hi-jacked Miami basketball for the better, I took it to heart. He tells me that Michael Beasley was THE 2008 draft class bust, he's a miserable drug addict, and he can't find his place in the NBA...

"C'mon man, chill out." I told him, "Beasley can ball."

"Well he's balling in rehab."

It took a while for me to respond to that. I later got a few IMs from a few more good friends, one of which was a fully recovered drug addict who just brought a child to the world, and they're asking me how things got so difficult for the Big Easy. Without looking into the issue, I explained how Miami can be like to an independant 20-year old. It's a very beautiful city to which I owe an infinite supply of memories. But where the beauty climbs the fat pink skies comes the vices. And I don't have to tell you, in fact you can learn a lot by watching Cocaine Cowboys on Netflix. A most excellent documentary.

So now I'm here getting my research on. And I saw what everyone had to say.

If drugs are involved. And I'm saying IF. C.R. Bauman is saying IF.

So, If drugs are involved, and he's going to rehab. Then good for him. He's a 20-year old with the responsibility of bringing better basketball to a community, he also brought a daughter into the world a few weeks after a disappointing playoff performance against the Atlanta Hawks. He's going through a lot and if he's with John Lucas at a substance abuse rehab center, why are we treating him like he's getting caught? He's owning up. People do crazy things at the age of 20. And he's seeking help to change his ways. And for that I give him an applaud.

I have sympathy for Beasley because we don't know what he's going through. At first, he was rocking purple and black for K-State and impressing scouts with his ball-handling, jump-shooting, and post technique. He became the poster-child for the 2008 Draft Class. Then Derrick Rose impressed us all and stole the spot. And Chicago obviously did the right thing. Derrick Rose is one of my favorite point guards, a position I play.

So I read a few articles about how Beasley is now Chris Washburn...


My gloves are off. I'm swinging on you guys. The bartender will be telling me to take it outside and I will.

take a look at the 1986 draft class. And let's not count Arvydas Sabonis (who at the time was a BEAST) since he didn't come to the league for another 10 years. Only 6 all-stars and a hall of fame selection for Drazen Petrovic. The #2 pick also died of a drug overdose before setting foot on the floor for the regular season.
Now think about the rookies of Beasley's class and I rest my case.

I want to go into the stats. I want to point out how little minutes Miami gave the guy to develop. But basketball is a game I love to play. And I can't analyze a man's hitting simply by arguing that he should have had more at bats. But if you're interested, Beasley finished the year with 24 minutes per game and he only started averaging as much because Miami was letting him play for 35-40 to cover for the injuries of Udonis Haslem, Jamario Moon, and Jermaine O'Neal.  And if you look at his numbers per 36 minutes, he's averaging 20 and 8.

But the problem on the court is that he's a creative person. Creativity on the court is a tough transition especially on the professional level. When you have guys who feed their families on how they protect the paint, a rookie can't come out and just whip out the right moves. There were games where he'd only play 5 minutes, and in those 5 minutes he had no time to establish any rhythm. He didn't know what was working. A creative player needs time and touches to read what the defense gives, and that's when the weapons work. When he only had two plays with the ball, he'd do a stupid half-spin or his first-step would fail. But if you watched him play 30 minutes, he simplified his game and became part of the Heat system. The jumper was wet and he found ways to rebound. Toward the last weeks of Miami's regular season he had a string of 25-point 15-rebound games with over 50% shooting.
He's someone who wants the ball. But no one wanted to talk about that. He was mentioned in as many trade rumors as Shawn Marion was. I could name three off the top of my head.

Amare Stoudemire.
Chris Bosh.
Carlos Boozer.

And with these rumors, you can't blame Heat fans for watching Wade's MVP-caliber effort and saying "Screw creativity. Let's be contenders."

So you're 20 years old, on your own, you're learning how to use your offense amongst the best in the basketball and the only thing the media says about him is where he should consider buying a new house. I feel bad for the guy, espcially when no one gave him any credit when he played the right way.

But now the 2nd pick of the draft fanfare has faded. Wade wants to be with contenders.
This is the month of August. The offseason is winding down and training begins.
And this is the best time for Michael Beasley to get his head straight.
Because come November, Derrick Rose will keep flirting with superstardom, Westbrook will fly higher, Brook Lopez and Greg Oden will swat balls into the stands, Kevin Love will continue to shine the offensive glass, O.J. Mayo's jumper will be sharper.
And Beasley will be ready and responsible for a new beginning.
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com