Huq’s Pen: All-Star weekend, Jordan, Dwight

You saw my videos with former Rockets Robert Horry and Sam Cassell from earlier today in the post before this.  Great, great stuff from those guys and always surreal hearing them talk about those glory days.  I remember being an 11 year old kid and having my world shattered when that ’96 team got swept by the Sonics to end the title run.  I still hate Gary Payton.

Horry and Cassell’s disbelief regarding the move is natural and to be expected.  But to this day, I still think the Barkley trade was the right move.  It did what it was designed to do – it got us past Seattle.  Without Barkley, we don’t get past Seattle.  Charles was a man possessed in that series.  And my contention has always been that after Brent Price went down, had Houston picked up either Kevin Johnson or Tim Hardaway–guys alleged to have been waiting by their phones–they would have advanced to the Finals.  Neither KJ nor Hardaway were defensive stoppers.  But either legend would have been wily enough to at least not be completely torched by John Stockton in the 4th quarter of Game 6, as Matt Maloney was.

In a way, All-Star weekend felt like it was for me in that my two undoubted favorite players in the league, Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving, stole the show.  Paul took the MVP honors of the real game by racking up 15 assists while Irving, aside from claiming the 3-point crown, had the moment of the weekend by sending Brandon Knight to the ground with a series of moves in the Rising Stars game.  I discussed this in my last column, but these are the types of players–these small flashy point guards–who fare best in these types of games because they have the skillsets which are most appealing to the naked eye.

A few notes on this topic:

  • Is Tony Parker the worst All-Star of all time?  I found myself thinking this last night while watching the game.  Obviously, as one of the best players in basketball, I’m not claiming he’s underserving of the spot.  But amongst the small players, is there anyone more boring to watch?  No one wants to watch a guy dribble straight through and take floaters.  Oh well.  And as I had known, Westbrook didn’t do it for me either.  When Paul wasn’t at point, I found myself losing all interest.  When neither Irving or Paul were on the floor, I barely watched.  I know I’m probably alone on this.
  • The move that seems to draw the most ‘oohs and aahs’ from the crowd is the one where the ball-handler comes through his leg and back to the same hand, almost faking a crossover dribble.  This was done by Paul pretty much every time he touched the ball.  The other move which was used and appreciated was one known as ‘The Shamgod” where the dribbler essentially throws the ball out in front of him with one hand–as if to drive in that direction–but then snatches it back with the other hand.  It’s named after God Shammgod.
  • There was a really interesting exchange during the Rising Stars challenge which exemplified two things.  A few plays before Kyrie Irving sent Brandon Knight to the floor, he put on a series of behind the back dribbles, drawing raves from Chris Webber.  Webber asked–almost rhetorically–why the ball handling in the league had so greatly improved in modern years.  Mike Fratello explained that teams have been investing heavily in skill development coaches to work on these aspects of players’ games and cited this as the predominant cause.  I respect Fratello as one of the best in the business.  But on this note, he’s decidedly wrong and his opinion exemplifies the generational gap and a loss of touch with reality for some in the business.  Yes, coaches work on the finer parts of players’ games to help them improve.  But the stuff these guys are now doing, the creativity towards which Webber was pointing, is honed on the playground at an early age.  Chris Paul didn’t learn The Shamgod from an NBA coach.  Old-guard guys like Fratello came up at a time when people dribbled in straight lines with one hand; to them, these new innovations are completely foreign.
  • Some plays later, Irving continued to do his thing and Webber continued to rave, remarking on the importance of dribbling.  It showed the analytical keenness of Webber but was an unfamiliar note from an NBA broadcast.  Most commentary crews rarely point towards these skills as holding any significance in a player’s game.  Webber, having possessed that ability himself, even as a big man, is aware of the importance and able to pass that on to the viewing audience.  To the other guys, it almost seems like deft dribbling is mere “trickery”.

Moving on, some of the rationale surrounding the topic of Michael Jordan’s comments on Lebron James and Kobe Bryant is so illogically preposterous that one can only adequately respond with a facepalm.  To recap, Jordan, when asked of his preference between Kobe and Lebron, responded that he’d choose Bryant because, as he put it, 5 trumped one.  Many notables, including Shaquille O’neal, mimicked the GOAT’s thought process with the selection.  I’ve confused myself even trying to understand.  Now, if the question were, “who at this point in time has the greater legacy” or “who has had the better career” or any other question inclusive of body-of-work, Jordan’s response might have made some sense.  (Setting aside for a second the point that even then ’5 over 1′ is inane.)  It just might’ve.  But the question was, who right now would you take?  Assuming Jordan interpreted the question as it was presented, one can understand why greatness as a player doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with having a great managerial mind.  What would a 34 year old Kobe Bryant’s body of work have anything to do with supposed superiority over a 27 year-old Lebron James who is just getting started?  I don’t think I need to waste any more characters pointing out the holes in that reasoning.

My final point: Dwight Howard.  On Friday, he remarked on Houston’s likability as a team and added, in response to a question, that he was not having fun in Los Angeles.  In and of themselves, the comments don’t hold too much significance.  But taken in context with the rest of what has taken place, one can see that snowball that was forming in Hell slowly developing into something real and tangible.

In the past, Howard had no comments at all regarding the Rockets and for good reason.  While they held a similar record, they didn’t have the star appeal currently possessed in the form of James Harden.  The present effect doesn’t come as a surprise.  The NBA, for the most part, is a fraternity, and the whole thing is microcosmic of the predominance of affinity and human interaction.  It’s a lot like why a lot of where you get in life is a factor of networking, building relationships, and ‘who you know’, rather than just mere merit.  This year’s team may not really be that much better than last year’s, with both squads at full health.  But for Howard, Harden is like him and part of ‘the in-crowd.’  That’s what matters.

With the Lakers free-falling at embarrassing levels, the biggest obstacle to a signing appears to be the $30million Howard would sacrifice in leaving LA outright.  But with how disastrous things have turned for L.A. this year, even I, always one to tout economic rationality, just might be able to see Howard leaving that cash on the table.  I don’t think it will happen.  But I think there is just enough of a chance that Houston would be wise to sit out the trade deadline and save their cash.

In any other circumstances, I wouldn’t think there’d be any hope.  But this season for Howard has been such a disaster–not just the losing–even at a personal level, that these possibilities seem real.  It’s common to struggle and play poorly.  It’s almost unheard of to be called out and accused of faking injury by one’s teammate.  If Howard signs, isn’t he essentially saying he’s fine with such public humiliation?

In Houston, not only would Howard find a young team that is better than the Lakers, but a player in Harden who, like him, and unlike Kobe, enjoys having fun and enjoying life apart from basketball.  For now, one must hope that the chips continue to fall with the Lakers falling further and the Rockets continuing to ascend, and one must trust that Mr. Harden has done his part in introducing Howard to the many esteemed gentlemen’s establishments our fine city has to offer.

As that snowball in Hell’s recesses grows, so does the likelihood that Daryl Morey will resign himself this weekend to smaller moves, sitting on the piggy bank for later in the summer.

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