Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Think, Know and Prove You're Wrong

I was going to write (in jest) about how we should trade Roy Halladay, you know, because he was not so good last night against a mediocre San Francisco lineup, or perhaps about Jaroslav Halak's preposterous performance against the Caps last night (53 saves in a 4-1 win to force a game 7). But then I finally finished up reading Bill Simmons' massive two-part NBA's think, know and prove column while taking a mammoth shit this morning. I felt obliged to comment on it.

Let me preface this by saying I really enjoy reading Simmons, despite the recent internet backlash against him, especially when he writes about the NBA. I thought his book was very entertaining, and his insights are usually at least somewhat informed. Sure, like everyone else, I can't stand when he shoves Boston everything down our throats in a national column, and he certainly loves to go overboard on the players he hates, but I typically like him more than not. Though I do admit, as the years have worn on, he becomes more and more smug, acts more and more like he has all the answers and if you disagree with him you are wrong. And boy oh boy did that all come out in this terribly inaccurate series.

So without further ado, time for the FJM treatment.

This year's NBA Most Valuable Player news conference should have been the least suspenseful announcement of 2010, but Ricky Martin already snared the honors by coming out of the closet last month. LeBron James' second straight trophy will have to settle for No. 2. It's such a foregone conclusion that I scrapped my annual MVP column for the first time in six years. In fact, let's add that to LeBron's historical résumé:

"So fantastic in 2009-10 that a sportswriter scrapped one of his five favorite columns to write every year because it just seemed pointless."

Yes, because this year's MVP news conference should be all about you. Jackass.

LeBron submitted the most convincing MVP campaign in 10 years. Maybe his numbers didn't differ dramatically from those in his previous two seasons -- although he nearly broke John Hollinger's Player Efficiency Rating record, shot 50.3 percent from the field, and averaged 29.7 points, 8.6 assists, 7.3 rebounds and 5.4 holy-s----did-he-just-do-that's per game -- but these 2009-10 games felt more like performances. We always wondered whether he would become a supernatural cross between Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Bo Jackson some day. Well, it happened. His command of every game, and every arena, was unlike anything we have seen since Jordan's heyday. He put a complete stamp on his team (both its style of play and its personality) like nobody since Larry Bird and Magic. His joy for every game was contagious. He brought it every night. He always gave a crap. Even last season, you couldn't totally say that.

Yes, because Steve Nash, Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan … guys like that didn't put a complete stamp on their teams.

That's what made it so funny when LeBron took heat for resting before the playoffs. Are you kidding? Did you WATCH this season? Did you watch everything he did for the Cavaliers? Did you see the pounding he took? I don't care if he's a 6-foot-9, 280-pound behemoth who might have been created in a laboratory by scientists during the Reagan administration. A beating is a beating. For 76 games, he took one. You have two goals: clinch home-court advantage, and win the title. Once you accomplish one, you start focusing on the other.

People are upset because they pay money to see LeBron play. The Cavs, presumably, didn't drop ticket prices or refund customers with LeBron sitting, even though they most likely bought those tickets to see LeBron play. That's why people are upset. Not everyone is a rich, smug sportswriter who can get a press pass to attend games for free, or you know, afford to pay for season tickets to a shit franchise like the Clippers.

Will that stop some media jackass from climbing on his high horse and robbing LeBron of a unanimous vote for MVP? Of course not. Media members live to screw this stuff up. Ten years ago, Shaquille O'Neal broke a sweat from beginning to end, averaging about 30 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and three blocks, and shooting 57 percent for a Lakers team that won 67 games (and eventually the title). That will always be remembered as The Shaq Season, at least by me. He should have won unanimously, but Fred Hickman decided to vote for Allen Iverson ... who finished sixth overall. That's right, Fred. It's been 10 full years, and I still remember how moronic that was. You're my go-to guy whenever I find myself in a "Who made the dumbest MVP vote ever?" conversation. Congratulations.

Yes, that was a dumb a vote. Clearly no other writer or voter has ever made a dumb statement.

There is definitely another Fred Hickman out there. I would bet anything. Just know that LeBron was the best player on the best team. He had the best stats. He was the most dominant from night to night. His best game was better than anyone else's best game. He meant the most to his team. He owned the 2009-10 season. I could prove these things to you with 6,000 words or 500, but that's the point: I shouldn't have to. In this case, any dissenting opinion is just wrong.

His best game was better than anyone else's? How can you prove this? Lots of players have great games in which they take over and their teams win. You cannot prove this, otherwise you would have. And dissenting opinion is dumb, but not wrong. I don't agree with it, but by its very definition, an opinion cannot be wrong. Saying an opinion is wrong is wrong. That's a fact.

That brings me to the "What do we think? What do we know? What can we prove?" exercise used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the movie "And the Band Played On." (I first wrote about it in 2005, when I became the first writer to lead an NFL gambling column with a relevant story about AIDS and the CDC.) I can prove LeBron should be the unanimous MVP. But what about everything else that happened this season? And what about the playoffs?

What do we think, what do we know and what can we prove? Let's break it down into three categories ...

Look at me! I do things no one else does! Aren't I great? You must get tired patting yourself on the back.


I think I want to know what life would have been like if Oklahoma City had taken Stephen Curry or Tyreke Evans over James Harden.

Sam Presti probably made the right choice. Repeat: probably. When you have someone like Kevin Durant (the best younger-than-25 scorer since Jordan), you borrow the Pippen-Grant-Cartwright recipe, surround that guy with flexible role players, and worry about chemistry and defense before anything else. I get it.

Which is why he actually is a GM, not some guy who lobbies to be the Bucks' GM (by the way, how's Milwaukee doing without you? Just fine? You don't say!).

But just for fun ... I mean ... don't you wonder how the Curry/Evans directions would have turned out? I wish we could play them out in an alternate universe "Lost"-style just to see what would happen. My best guesses:

Sure. I also wonder how your best guesses are any different than your worse guesses.

The Evans Universe: Makes the Zombie Sonics better on paper, screws them up in real life. Russell Westbrook would be threatened as the primary playmaker/distributor; Durant would be threatened as the alpha dog. From a chemistry standpoint, I'm dubious. I just don't think you need him. Think of it this way: I'm already making you dinner with Durant as my main course. He's the $200 slab of filet mignon on the bone. We're at a table with 10 other people. We're chowing down. We already have a Caesar salad (Westbrook), cream of mushroom soup (Serge Ibaka), potatoes au gratin (Jeff Green), asparagus (Thabo Sefolosha), sweet potatoes (Eric Maynor) and the filet (Durant). Harden is delicious corn bread done southwestern-style; Evans is a $150 rack of lamb. Do I really need the lamb? If I brought that out, wouldn't you say, "Good God, this is too much food; I'm gonna have a heart attack!" It might be delicious, but I don't need it. I need the corn bread.

Given all of the above, I think the corn bread is even going overboard.

The Curry Universe: Much more intriguing. Fits in from a chemistry standpoint. Hurts them defensively, but you can always get away with one squeaky wheel if the other four wheels are humming. (See: Parker, Tony.) Doesn't totally threaten Westbrook; as we saw with the Curry-Monta Ellis experiment this season, Curry floats between both guard spots effortlessly. And the shooting ... I mean ... good God. Nobody could ever double Durant with Curry's guy. Beyond that, alt-OKC would have two younger-than-22 shooters with 28-foot range and two 50-40-90 (field goal-3 point-free throw) percentage threats year after year. Could it find another Harden-like talent through the draft or free agency? Yes. Could it find another Curry-like talent? No. He's an original prototype. I like this universe more than Harden World. Sorry. Speaking of Curry ...

But Sam Presti made the right decision. Probably. But I like Curry better. So I just lied.

I think Curry was the 2009-10 Rookie of the Year.

If I didn't know what the definition of an opinion was, I'd call this statement wrong.

Look, I wanted to pick Brandon Jennings because he started for a playoff team, but you can't miss 65 percent of your shots for the last four months of the regular season and be my rookie of the year. Sorry. That leaves two guards (Curry and Evans) who put up gaudy stats on terrible teams. I just thought Curry had a higher degree of difficulty: crazy coaching situation, crazy ownership/front-office situation, super-crazy roster. He played with Ellis and Corey Maggette (two of the ultimate me-first guys), and a rotating cast of promoted D-Leaguers and bench guys. He didn't have a decent low-post player or rebounder; you knew things were bad when someone said the words, "We really miss Ronny Turiaf right now." And yet, he got better every month (check out his splits), and became the first rookie ever to average 17 points and two 3s per game and top 85 percent free throw shooting and 40 percent 3-point shooting (nobody even came close before).

If you wanted to pick Brandon Jennings, as much as I love that guy, my opinion is you're dumb. Jennings had a great season, but as you said, he was nowhere near the class of Tyreke Evans and Steph Curry from start to finish.

Evans made history as well, joining the 20-5-5 Rookie Club along with MJ, Oscar Robertson and LeBron. Pretty good company. But he had better teammates, and if you want to get technical, I never watched a Warriors game without thinking, "Curry would be fun to play with" at least once. I can't say the same about Evans. Curry gets my vote. By the way, I still want to know how Minnesota's David Kahn had the fifth and sixth picks in the draft, took two point guards, and somehow missed Curry AND Jennings. He was like the kid with the gun in the Big Kahuna Burger apartment who fired 25 bullets at Jules and Vincent Vega, and somehow didn't hit either of them.

Apparently, we should base our ROY voting on whether or not Bill Simmons thinks the player would be fun to play with. Hard to disagree.

And look at David Kahn! Bill Simmons should be GM of the Timberwolves!

I think this spring could be the last stand for the Rejuvenated Atlanta Hawks.

And here's why: Joe Johnson is getting max money this summer to play in Chicago, New Jersey, New York, Clipperland or wherever. He's irreplaceable for Atlanta obviously. Assuming Josh Childress returns from his Greek exile, that gives the Hawks Childress, Josh Smith, Al Horford, Jamal Crawford, Marvin "I Look Worse As A No. 2 Pick Each Season" Williams, Zaza Pachulia, Zaza Pachulia's bacne and Mike Bibby's chalk outline next season. That's a 42-win team. The window is right now. They can absolutely make the 2010 Eastern finals ... and then get swept, but still. The Eastern finals!

Do you think Joe Johnson is getting max money somewhere, or is this a fact? Because let me tell you something, Joe Johnson very well may get max money somewhere, but I don't know that for a fact. Neither do you. What if he re-signs with Atlanta? Still the last stand this season?

I think Larry Brown could absolutely outcoach his first- and second-round opponents this spring.

Stan Van Gundy in Round 1, Mike Woodson in Round 2 ... and Mike Brown looming in Round 3. I'm just sayin'.

Stan Van Gundy and Mike Brown have both coached their teams to the finals. Mike Woodson has helped develop a young core in Atlanta. They may not be as accomplished as Larry Brown, but they aren't John freakin Lucas either.

I think Ernie Grunfeld should be the 2009-10 Anti-Executive of the Year.

He turned Dallas into a contender and made Cleveland the overwhelming favorite. His failure to grab J.J. Hickson in the Antawn Jamison trade was the biggest front-office boner of the season by someone not named "David Kahn" and, if you want to dig deeper, an important chess piece in this summer's "Will LeBron stay or go?" drama. Without Hickson, Cleveland wouldn't have a young player to include in a summer sign-and-trade if, say, LeBron stays and Chris Bosh or Joe Johnson wants to join him. Keeping Hickson allows the Cavs to say to Toronto/Atlanta, "Bosh/Johnson is leaving anyway -- give him the max and flip him to us, and we'll give you Hickson, two future No. 1s and $3 million, and sign Shaq for one year and $10 million to make the swap of contracts work ... do we have a deal?" Thanks again, Ernie. You just opened the window for Cleveland to win five straight titles.

LeBron wasn't going to Washington. What does Grunfeld care if he stays in Cleveland or goes somewhere else and opens that franchise's window to win a bunch of titles?

(The Exec of the Year: Milwaukee's John Hammond. Dumped Richard Jefferson's contract, picked Jennings, stole John Salmons from Chicago, nailed the Carlos Delfino signing, maintained his cap flexibility going forward, allowed the "Fear the Deer" era to unfold. That was a clinic on how to keep a small-market team relevant. Had Andrew Bogut not Theismann'ed his elbow, the Bucks absolutely would have beaten Boston in Round 1, and my mom would have been saying to me, "What's up with this Fear the Deer thing?" Alas. By the way, Scott Skiles being the 2009-10 Coach of the Year goes without saying. So I don't know why I said it.)

But Simmons could have totally done so much better. You missed out, Milwaukee fans.

I think Portland had the best home crowd this season.

The perfect blend of creepy intensity, genuine devotion and a massive inferiority complex. I never stumbled across a Blazers game in which their fans weren't totally bringing it. Two great examples from Monday's Oklahoma City game: First, OKC had such a severe free throw advantage, and Portland fans were so furious about it that it seemed like we were headed for the first triple ref homicide. (I tweeted that the whole situation reminded me of Chris Rock's old joke, "I haven't seen white people that mad since they canceled 'M.A.S.H.'") Only Portland fans and Utah fans can make a casual observer feel like the officials are in actual danger. That's a good thing. In the old days, every crowd did that.

Yes, because we all know refs should fear for their safety at work.

Second example: Because news broke of Brandon Roy's soul-crushing knee injury that same night, there was particular meaning to Marcus Camby's get-on-my-back performance (30 points, 13 rebounds) ... which the Blazers' fans recognized by passionately chanting, "Mar-cus Cam-bee!" when he finally left the game. Just a great moment. Only Knicks fans (if they had a good team and were presented with a similar situation) would have seized it with the same gusto. Made me remember the days when NBA crowds knew what the hell they were doing. Gotta love Rip City.

Oh really, only Knicks fans would do such a thing? Fucking Sixers fans, who didn't even show up during the regular season, starting chanting, "REG-GIE! REG-GIE! REG-GIE!" two seasons ago when Reggie Evans busted his ass against the Pistons in the playoffs. Everyone's fans do this. That's what fans do.

(Best NBA crowd rankings for 2009-10: 1. Portland, 2. Utah, 3. Golden State, 4. New York ... then a big drop-off to the next group of cities. Biggest drop-off: Boston, a team that won 50 games but had a better road record than home record. In the defense of Boston fans, they spent the first half of the season waiting for Kevin Garnett to stop limping, then the second half arguing about who should charge the court, pull a Shane Stant on Rasheed Wallace and serve the mandatory prison sentence. They were distracted.)


I think Cleveland will win the 2010 title.

Best team, best player, best season. Of course, we could have said that last year. But Jamison and Shaq give the Cavs a flexibility last season's team just didn't have. They can go small, big, medium ... doesn't matter. The only concern if you're picking nits: LeBron still gets a little overeager during big moments, like how his bizarre pull-up 3-pointer derailed what would have been an incredible comeback in Boston on Easter Sunday. Kobe Bryant battled with the Hero Complex for years and years, finally settling into an icy assassin these past two seasons. But it took forever. LeBron isn't there yet. I still think he can be had in a tight game by the right team -- like how Boston exposed Kobe in the 2008 Finals -- but he gets credit for being a vicious closer with a lead (nobody's better up five with two minutes to go).

Yes, LeBron in the clutch is Cleveland's biggest concern. Right. The same guy Simmons just rightfully slobbered over as the MVP.

You know how we will know when LeBron is ready? When, after big shots, he doesn't run over to his bench and hop onto teammates like an overgrown spaz anymore. Maybe Dan Gilbert needs to buy MJ's game-worn, "I knew it was going in" fist pump off eBay.)

Because everyone knows you can't be great and get excited when you do something good.


I know Hedo Turkoglu was the 2009-10 LVP (Least Valuable Player).

No you don't. You think he was. Because he had a shitty season. But was he any less valuable than, say, Elton Brand?

We knew it was a desperation move to give Hedo $50 million, and it didn't seem far-fetched at all that someone who peaked two years ago would struggle in a new city in a new offense for a new coach without Dwight Howard protecting him defensively. But I never thought he'd become Enemy No. 1 in Toronto. Hedo fell off a basketball cliff; he's almost unrecognizable. It's like seeing Garry Shandling in the new "Iron Man 2" trailer: Wait a second, I recognize that voice. Is that ... no! It can't be! Poor Hedo might want to give up the cigarettes and cheeseburgers this summer. As for some LVP runners-up: Rasheed Wallace (No. 4), and Philly (No. 3) would have stunk with or without Elton Brand.

First of all, Hedo was great last year, helping the Magic get to the Finals, so I'm not sure he peaked two years ago, but whatever. And Philly isn't a player. It's a team. Moron.

Emeka Okafor (No. 2) deserves his own paragraph. His career arc looks like something you'd see from a guy in his mid-30s. His contract ($10.6 million this year, $38 million over the next three) is a salary cap tsunami for a small-market team. He's a horrible match for a Hornets team that once loved having its big guys set picks for its point guards, then roll to the hoop for alley-oops. (Okafor can't do it. Not in his skill set.) Since he can't post up or shoot free throws, he's useless for the Hornets offensively. (According to hoopdata.com, he was a 38 percent shooter inside 10 feet.) Defensively, his shot-blocking and rebounding numbers dipped, and his athleticism made you think, "Wait, is that Theo Ratliff?"

Are you trying to take a knock on Theo's athleticism? I'm pretty sure that's entirely why Ratliff made it to the NBA: his great athleticism that allowed him to run the floor, block shots and grab rebounds.

Maybe Okafor hasn't been a bust on the Pervis/Darko/Bowie/LaRue/Kwame/Oden (sorry, he has to be thrown in at least for now) level, but at the very least, he's been profoundly disappointing. I'm just glad I never wrote that Orlando should have taken him over Dwight Howard.


(I did?!?!?!?!?)

(Expunge that from my archives, ESPN.com editors! DO IT RIGHT NOW! I MEAN IT!)

But you, Fred Hickman, you must live with your shame!

I know "Deron Williams or Chris Paul?" is a legitimate debate.

So does everyone else.

A big concession from the guy who once wrote that Williams was the Stone Temple Pilots to Paul's Pearl Jam. But Paul's knee injury combined with another stellar Williams season ... I mean, if you were picking one of them for the next 12 years and your life depended on it, which one would you pick? Doesn't Williams seem like a safer bet to stay healthy and have Jason Kidd-like longevity? Why does Paul's missing meniscus worry me so much? (Same for you, Brandon Roy. You already had bad knees.) In February's trade-value column, I ranked Williams 10th, Derrick Rose ninth, Roy eighth and Paul seventh. Now? I think I'd go Roy 10th, then Paul, then Williams, then Rose (who's been playing out of his mind lately). Either way, R.I.P. for the Stone Temple Pilots joke. And for Paul's sake, let's hope this didn't turn into The Police (Paul) and U2 (Williams).

The Stone Temple Pilots/Pearl Jam thing isn't a joke. It's not funny, and it doesn't even make sense. And the Police/U2 is even worse, because the Police and U2 suck balls, while Paul and Williams are awesome.

(Important note: If Utah makes another conference finals this year, the debate swings in Williams' favor. I think it could have happened had the Jazz not lost the quietly rejuvenated Andrei Kirilenko down the stretch, which ended up costing them a No. 2 seed. Where does a Kirilenko injury swinging a conference finals prediction rank among the craziest things that happened this season? Above or below Kenyon Martin threatening everyone in Denver's locker room because J.R. Smith's chauffeur filled his Range Rover with buttered popcorn as an April Fool's prank? "I swear to God, man, when I find out who did this, I'm gonna put my mothaf---in' hands on y'all!" You're right; K-Mart was higher.)

I didn't even get a chance to answer, asshole.

I know Chauncey Billups needs to make the Hall of Fame Pyramid in the paperback edition of my basketball book.

Just the facts: 2004 Finals MVP ... seven straight conference finals appearances ... nine straight 50-win seasons (and counting) ... five straight All-Star appearances ... one second-team All-NBA, two third-team All-NBAs (and probably a third one coming) ... two-year peak: 18 points, three rebounds and seven assists per game, 43 percent 3-point shooting, 90 percent free throw shooting ... second-best player on a champ, best player on a Finals runner-up ... career: 39 percent 3-point shooting, 89 percent free throw shooting (seventh all-time) ... career playoff numbers: 18-4-6, 41 percent field goal shooting, 37 percent on 3s, 88 percent on free throws (133 games, not including this spring). At the very least, that's as good as Jo-Jo White. Speaking of the Pyramid ...

And I know you will shamelessly plug your book every chance you get.

I know Kevin Durant should finish second in the MVP voting.

That has nothing to do with the pyramid.

Only 21 years old, best player on a 50-win team, youngest scoring champ ever, clearly headed for phenomenal things ... I mean, shouldn't we just get it over with and sneak him into the Pyramid now? Won't the book look dumb in five years if he's missing? Before the 2007 draft, I wrote that Durant had "a legitimate chance to go down with Bird, Magic, MJ, Baylor, Oscar, West, Duncan, Pettit, Havlicek and every other great non-center who ever played in the National Basketball Association." It can no longer be called "a chance." It's going to happen unless he gets injured.

But he could still get injured. No one knows.

What we still can't figure out: his offensive ceiling. Of other modern players who averaged 30-plus points a game, LeBron's scoring average peaked in Year 3 (also at age 21), MJ peaked in Year 3 (age 24), Iverson peaked in Year 6 (age 26), Tracy McGrady peaked in Year 6 (age 24), Dominique Wilkins peaked in Year 7 (age 27), Bernard peaked in Year 8 (age 29), Ice peaked in Year 10 (age 28) and Kobe peaked in Year 10 (age 28). So we're all over the map. But unlike everyone we just mentioned, Durant makes a high percentage of 3s, gets to the line and makes a high percentage of free throws. Great white sharks are eating machines; Durant is a scoring machine. He was put on earth to score in basketball games. When Phoenix's Jared Dudley said on my podcast that Durant was the single toughest cover in the league, it didn't even seem outlandish. With LeBron, you can at least play off him and beg him to take dumb 3s. There are no outs with defending Durant. Play him tight, deny him the ball and hope for the best.

I bet he'll still try to figure it out.

So his ceiling becomes a question of simple math. Here were Durant's first three seasons:

2008: 20.3 PPG, 43.0% FG, 28.8% 3FG, 87.3% FT, 17.1 FGA, 2.6 3PA, 5.6 FTA.
2009: 25.3 PPG, 47.6% FG, 42.2% 3FG, 86.3% FT, 18.8 FGA, 3.1 3PA, 7.1 FTA.
2010: 30.1 PPG, 47.6% FG, 36.5% 3FG, 90.0% FT, 20.3 FGA, 4.3 3PA, 10.2 FTA.

If his ceiling is simple math, then you can figure it out, which is the complete opposite of what you just wrote.

Let's improve his 2009-10 season with five simple/realistic tweaks: three more shots, one more free throw, better 3-point shooting (up to 44 percent), more 3s and a better overall field goal percentage (up to 50 percent). Something like this:

52.0% FG, 44% 3FG, 92% FT, 23.5 FGA, 5.9 3PA, 11.2 FTA.

Let's tweak things we have no way of knowing will get tweaked in a similar manner, if at all!

According to those (realistic and not entirely far-fetched) numbers, Durant would make 2.7 3s (8.1 points), 10.3 free throws (10.3 points) and 9.3 2-pointers (18.6 points) per game.

According to those (realistic and not entirely far-fetched but completely made-up) numbers …

That's 37 points a game. Jordan-Wilt Chamberlain territory. Without totally hogging the ball like 1987 Jordan (27.8 FGA, 11.9 FTA) or 2006 Kobe (27.2 FGA, 10.2 FGA).

You know, if this stuff I made up actually happens.

If Durant HOGGED the ball, got to the line and made his 3s? Forty a game. You heard me. He isn't wired that way and would never go there ... but let's just say that, when LeBron boasted he could win the scoring title every season if he wanted, he forgot about someone. Durant needs to be snuck into the Pyramid with an "assuming he doesn't get injured" caveat. There's just no other way.

There's just no other way what? I don't know what you're talking about.

I know Manu Ginobili's recent scoring explosion and a few big-time victories roped people into thinking the Spurs might not be done ... .

But I'm not buying it. Too old, too creaky, too many dumb injuries. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker haven't looked good in three months. I don't see it.

For the record, the Spurs are up 3 games to 1 against Dallas, the very definition of not being done.

I know Denver hasn't been the same since George Karl got sick.

And with reason. In the movies, Karl gets sick, the team rallies around him, he vows to come back for Round 2, he does and the team ends up winning the title. In real life, he gets sick, he vows to come back for Round 2, but the Nuggets can't make it out of Round 1 because Utah has a better team. I hate real life.

I hate real life too, but not because all the things I think I know aren't happening (except this one).

I know the Celtics are going to lose in Round 1

The Celtics are up 3-1, needing just one more win to not lose in Round 1, and it took a superhuman effort by Wade just to make it to a fifth game.

On Tuesday, I thought Dwyane Wade could beat by himself what I described in a recent e-mail as a "decrepit, non-rebounding, poorly coached, dispirited, excuse-making, washed-up sham of a contender" (admittedly, I was a little angry) … and that was before the Celtics tanked Game 82 on Fan Appreciation Night in a pathetic attempt to land Milwaukee in Round 1. Nope. They got Wade and Miami. The karma gods hate that crap. And that's what this season was: crap. The Celtics have been a .500 team for nearly four months. Everyone has a glazed, "As soon as we get eliminated, we get to start summer vacation, right?" look on their face, and if you could describe Garnett's bizarre clinging-to-the-past-and-not-getting-the-hint-that-he's-done-as-an-impact-player season with a movie character, it would absolutely be O'Bannion from "Dazed and Confused."

I repeat, the Celtics are up 3 games to 1.

All this shocked the die-hards who loved the 2008 and 2009 teams and never thought they'd become, for lack of a better word, weak. Yes, we won two years ago. Putting us well within my self-proclaimed five-year grace period -- see rule No. 12: "No fan can complain about a team that just won a title for five years" -- and making me a hypocrite for everything you read in the previous paragraph. Of anything I ever wrote, I regret the five-year grace period most. I created it three weeks after the Patriots won Super Bowl XXXVI, my first Boston title in 16 years. It had been so long since one of my teams won anything that I had forgotten what it felt like. So really, my creating rules for fans of championship teams was like Kate Moss releasing a manifesto for eating fatty foods. How the hell would I know?

Don't hold me accountable for things I did in the past … but you Fred Hickman, you must be reminded of all your past wrongdoings!

Here's what I learned from 2002-10 (six Boston titles in all): You can't stop being a sports fan just because your team won a title. Sports are all about the highs and lows. If you don't get swept up in them, you become detached, and eventually you won't care as much. Just because the Celtics won two years ago doesn't give them the right to embrace "Don't worry, we might not care now but we're gonna try in the playoffs" as their team mantra two years later, just like I shouldn't be obligated to accept their recent foibles out of some twisted sense of gratitude.

Despite what I wrote before.

I thought the Celtics played their fans this season. Don't rope us in with "ubuntu" for two years then turn your back on it like it was a kabbalah fad or something. Don't tell us to embrace "The New Big Three," then shop Ray Allen for eight months like he was a used car. Don't tell us our best forward's knee is fine when we see him limping. Don't blame the effort of your players after a loss when you played all 12 of them like they were Little Leaguers, or when you keep playing the one guy who exhibits no effort whatsoever without calling him out once. Don't sign a second center for big bucks, then act surprised when the incumbent center bristles about his playing time. So on and so on. It was an empty season filled with excuses, half-truths and false promises. Just because they won two years ago doesn't mean fans had to blindly condone it.

Yes, because I'm sure the Celtics, with their roster of three future Hall of Famers who also happened to add a title-winning center known for his defense and rebounding, were out to screw over their fans. That's why they're tanking in the playoffs. Only up 3-1! Ridiculous!

I once wrote that Miami's 2006 title run was like a group of guys in Vegas spending crazy money at dinner, having a great time, ordering dozens of dishes and drinks and never once worrying about the check

It wasn't.

… and the 2007 Miami season was like the 10 sobering minutes when the check arrives and nobody can believe the bill. The check just gets passed around so everyone can stare it in horror, then the one dude with an MBA grabs it and figures out what everyone owes, and you limp out of the restaurant saying, "I can't believe we just spent $250 apiece on dinner, I gotta hit an ATM," but it takes an extra 10 minutes to leave because somebody has to take a dump and somebody else thinks they have a chance with the waitress, so the rest of the guys are just clustered in the lobby, totally full, a little bit drunk, a little bit tired, trying to rally for a big gambling night but knowing they're about to get their asses kicked because you can never win in Vegas when you're drunk, full and tired.

But you sure as shit can in AC! (and soon Fishtown!)

Welcome to your 2009-10 Celtics postseason. The check has arrived. I hope I'm wrong.

You are. The Celtics are up 3-1.

I know Cavs-Mavericks is a smart Finals wager in Vegas

If you want to lose the money. The Mavs are down 3-1.

The good news for Mavs fans: great chemistry; fantastic free throw shooting; very good crunch-time scorer (Nowitzki); quality 3-point shooting; low turnovers; legitimate shot-blocking/rebounding thanks to the Brendan Haywood trade and Erick Dampier's contract year; some genuine toughness; home court through the first two rounds (and possibly Round 3 if L.A. chokes); and even a water-bug point guard who could bother the Parkers/Nashes for a few minutes per half (Roddy Beaubois).

The bad news: You're down 3-1 to a Spurs team that is supposed to be finished according to Simmons.

The bad news: no low-post scoring; too many jump shots; two or three guys who never want to shoot in crunch time unless they have to; a lack of athleticism (noticeable against lanky/young/athletic teams like OKC and Atlanta); too much J.J. Barea; any point guard with a first step can drink Jason Kidd's milkshake; any explosive 2-guard will single-handedly annihilate them (see: Ellis, Monta); and even though the Caron Butler trade was a no-brainer, he's a world-class ballstopper. In other words, when he gets the ball, everything stops. Hmmmmm … I have the ball … clear out for me … OK … hmmmmm … what move should I try?… maybe I'll dribble a few times … I hate guys like that.

Except that's not the real bad news. It's that you're down 3-1.

And yet, throw Kidd, Dirk, Haywood, Marion and Butler out there at crunch time, and that's a tough group of mother-you-know-whats. If Jason Terry catches fire for a half, even better. (Again, the steal was Haywood, playing in a contract year, with a vested interest to give a crap for two months before someone signs him for $40 million and he stops caring again. In a related story, this is why we need a lockout.) The key, as always: Nowitzki. You win the title when your best player plays better than everyone else's best player; Nowitzki's crunch-time performance this season, according to 82games.com (46.7 points per 48 minutes, 45.2% FG, 14.0 FTM, +98) was more efficient than anyone except LeBron (66.1 points per 48, 48.8 FG%, 21.0 FTM, +116).

I thought Butler was a world-class ballstopper? Color me confused.

Now look at these Finals matchup odds from Vegas (see sidebar). You're telling me a Cleveland-Mavs Finals is conceivable once every seven times? Please. It's too bad gambling isn't legal or I would have stepped in here.

And lost all my money.


I can prove that Andrew Bogut's fluke injury was unfair

How on earth can you prove this?

Because it was.

That's not proof.

If that doesn't happen, Milwaukee grabs a 5-seed, "shocks" Boston in Round 1 and has everyone excitedly babbling about Brandon Jennings, the "Fear The Deer" crusade, John Salmons' homeless-guy beard and the similarities between Scott Skiles and Norman Dale. Life ain't fair.

You also can't prove that, and didn't even offer anything remotely resembling proof.

I can prove that Brandon Roy will miss the playoffs

No, you can't. Because he didn't. He came back already, and has played. So you can't prove it.

And he will.

No, he won't. Because he's already back, and has already played.

Too bad, because the Blazers had evolved into "grind-it-out, get stops, make you conform to their style, hell to play them at home" contenders after the Camby trade.

That's exactly what they've been doing this series, even before Roy came back.

The real shame is that we wasted Camby, who should have played a major role on a contender this spring and now looks like he's heading home after Round 1. He should blame OKC's Sam Presti for not trumping Portland's crappy offer for him under a foolish "Nah, that's fine, we're young, we don't need to do anything like that right now" rationale.

And he should have taken Steph Curry! But he made the right pick in Harden, probably.

I believe the opposite: You can never be too young to make a run when you have one of the best scorers alive. Why not now? What's the big deal? So you sacrifice expirings and a protected lottery pick to get Westbrook, Green, Ibaka, Harden and especially Durant some crunch-time playoff reps? That's a bad thing? You never know what might happen when someone starts getting reps.

Because, you know, the Thunder aren't getting any crunch-time playoff reps in their series with the Lakers, which is tied 2-2. If only Marcus Camby were here!

For instance, this season's "American Idol" has a kid named Tim Urban who looks like a "Beatlemania" extra. He made the final 24 only because someone else got booted for already having signed a record deal. He stayed a couple of extra weeks only because he was "cute" and young girls were voting for him. Then he nailed Jeff Buckley's version of "Hallelujah" and bought himself a couple of weeks. Last week and this week, he found his voice -- like a cross between Joe Jonas, Jason Mraz and 90 other people on Sirius' coffeehouse channel -- and for all we know, he might win this thing. I would have given it 1,000,000-1 odds about six weeks ago. You just never know what might happen until someone gets those reps.

This has absolutely nothing to do with the Thunder, the Blazers, Marcus Camby or basketball. And it's terribly out of place in a basketball column. I hate everything about that paragraph.

A good basketball example: 13.8 PPG, 5.2 APG, 3.4 RPG, 42.2% FG, 17 FTs, 5 games.

You know what those numbers were? Dwyane Wade's first playoff series, back in his rookie year (2004), when Miami upset New Orleans in five games. Nothing special, right?

Here was Wade's Round 2 against a really good Indiana team: 20.6 PPG, 5.9 APG, 4.4 RPG, 47.2% FG, 58 FTs, 7 games.

OK, what does this have to do with Marcus Camby? The Thunder are in the playoffs, getting their crunch-time reps in a 2-2 series against the defending champs! Where am I?

That Indiana series had a profound impact on Wade's development as a future superstar; he had his sea legs under him from Round 1, then he went out and did his thing. Two years later, they won a title. Anyway, I think there's a humongous difference between "getting your feet wet in the playoffs" and "doing damage in the playoffs." Oklahoma City could have accomplished both. Remember we had this conversation when Pau Gasol is abusing Nick Collison in a big playoff game next week because Serge Ibaka fouled out.

Oklahoma City is doing both. Right now. They're tied 2-2 with the defending fucking champs!

I can prove that the 2010 Orlando-Cleveland series will be different than the 2009 Orlando-Cleveland series

No, you can't, but I'm listening.

Wrote it before, I'll write it again: The 2009 Magic were kryptonite to the 2009 Cavs because of the Turkoglu/Lewis duo, which could only happen because of Dwight Howard's ability to handle the shot-blocking/rebounding by himself. Teams had someone to cover Turkoglu or Lewis, but not both of them. It just worked. Swapping Turkoglu for Vince squandered that trump card. Throw in Jamison, Shaq and LeBron's vengeance factor and this feels like a totally different series than last year. Of course …

Again, this is not proof. And Vince is a better player who is more difficult to cover than Turkoglu, even the Turkoglu from last year. It may feel totally different, but that doesn't mean the outcome will be totally different.

I can prove that you can't win four straight playoff series by relying on Vince Carter

Again, no you can't, but again, I'm (stupidly) listening.

You know why? Because he's Vince Carter! Ask the Nets' fans about him. Ask the Raptors' fans about him. They know.

For the millionth time, that's not proof. You mean tell me Vince Carter is Vince Carter? Get the fuck out of here! I think Simmons needs to look up the definition of proof. And opinion, while he's at it.

I can prove that Magic fans just muttered to themselves, "We don't need to rely on Vince to win four straight series -- we had a +12.2 point differential after the All-Star break, you jackass."

You've made it abundantly clear you can't prove anything, but they at least offer some proof to refute your lack of proof.

My counter to your muttering: Where are you going in the last three minutes of a tight game? Last spring, you cleared out for Hedo and let him create shots for himself or someone else. Worked all the way to the Finals. What about this spring? Dwight Howard takes 10 shots a game and disappears down the stretch. According to 82games.com, Howard averaged 16.0 crunch-time points per 48 minutes, such a staggeringly low number that Al Horford (17.0) and Udonis Haslem (23.9) topped him, Andrew Bogut (16.0) tied him and Joakim Noah (15.6) nearly tied him. And that's fine. He was still the third-most valuable player in the league. (At least in my opinion.) But you can't win in the playoffs without someone creating quality shots in the last four minutes.

Vince Carter can do that. So can Rashard Lewis. And Jameer Nelson.

So where's it coming from? Jameer Nelson has slipped since his shoulder injury last season.

Except right now. He absolutely dominated in the first-round series against Charlotte.

Lewis' numbers have fallen off without Turkoglu.

That doesn't mean he still can't do the job.

That leaves Vince.

Which is a pretty good option.

Is anyone buying this? What happens the first time someone gives him a hard playoff foul on a drive? What happens if he tweaks his ankle and has to play through pain? What happens if he has menstrual cramps? (Jokes! I'm joking. Stop it. Settle down.) What happens (hypothetically) in a Game 6 in Charlotte or Atlanta, with Orlando trailing three games to two and facing a giant upset, tie game, two minutes to play, win or go home? Who gets the ball? Who takes over? Who is everyone looking at and saying, "Save us?" That's right … Vince Carter. The most disappointing superstar of his generation.

Yes, because this

and this

and this

and this

and these

were all just flukes.

You might be an optimist. You might believe in redemption. You might believe that, after A-Rod, Manning, Duke and Kobe, the thought of Vince Carter being the top creator on an NBA champ isn't far-fetched.

Especially since he's hit so many game-winners in his career.

I am a pessimist. At least when Vince is involved. Even though he's playing for his most talented team ever, I can prove he will destroy them in the end. Why? Because he's Vince Carter.

Good fucking god, this is not proof. Stop using that word.

Did you miss the past 12 years or something?

Nope, but you seemed to miss those buzzer-beaters he's hit.

Why do you think Orlando got him for 20 cents on the dollar?

Because New Jersey is dumb? And was clearing cap space for LeBron?

Why do you think Toronto fans still jeer him lustily even though he left six years ago?

Because he doesn't play hockey?

Why do you think Kidd pushed for a trade to Dallas?

Because Mark Cuban is an awesome owner to play for, and you know, New Jersey sucks.

Orlando fans, remember we had this conversation when there's a big playoff game in a few weeks and Vince is rolling around on the floor like he's been shot as you're screaming, "Get up! GET UP, VINCE! HE BARELY FOULED YOU! IT'S GAME 7! GET THE EFF UP!!!!!!!!!!!!"

When you write a column, it's not a conversation. No one else gets to respond. Though I'm trying.

I can prove that the Disease of More exists

For instance, the more money you get to write a sports column, the lazier you become, the more tired your ideas get and more full of yourself you get.

Our latest example: the 2009-10 Los Angeles Lakers. Just a classic year-after season, highlighted by Kobe grimly refusing to give up shots because he can smell the faint fumes of Karl Malone's scoring record; Gasol griping about Kobe's shot selection; Odom cruising through the season with "I just got paid and I just got married" intensity; Bynum griping about his minutes; Ron Artest launching a reality show; Farmar pressing because he's in a contract year; and the utterly amazing fact that DJ Mbenga has a publicist. You win a title, you get soft and everyone wants more: more shots, more money, more minutes, more everything. That's why Pat Riley called it the "Disease of More." That's why Bill Russell once wrote, "it's much harder to keep a championship than to win one."

The Lakers finished the regular season with the best record in the West and the third best record in the entire NBA.

Look, I know it's confusing as hell that a team as loaded as the Lakers might not make the Finals. Just know that we have decades of NBA evidence to back this up: You can't win without chemistry. Which reminds me …

Just know these things. Like I do. I can prove it. Without any proof.

I can prove that chemistry matters

No, you can't but go ahead.

Group 1 (has it): Cleveland, Oklahoma City, Dallas, Atlanta, Portland, Milwaukee, San Antonio and Phoenix.

Group 2 (doesn't have it): Boston, Los Angeles.

Group 3 (unclear): Orlando, Utah, Miami, Charlotte, Chicago, Denver.

You cannot prove any of this.

Those are the 16 playoff teams. Thought that was interesting. We're clearly gravitating toward some sort of Chemistry Era.

An era that doesn't even exist!

A great example: Wednesday night, Phoenix at Utah. If the Suns lose, they land a 4-seed and a preferable matchup with Denver (which plays an open style that favors Phoenix). If they win, they jump to a 3-seed and a tougher matchup with Portland (more size, slowdown style, great crowd). General manager Steve Kerr heads to the locker room that night thinking, "We should bench the older guys [Nash and Hill], play our subs and settle for the 4-seed." What happens? Everyone wants to play. Better yet, they're excited to play. Kerr talks it over with Alvin Gentry; they decide to go for it and end up winning by 20. In their euphoric locker room afterward, Grant Hill tells Kerr the Suns have better chemistry than any team he's ever played for. And he means it.

And if a Duke player says it, it must be true. Just ask Mike Dunleavy about how honest Elton Brand is.

Those are the stories I need to hear about my title contenders.

Like the 2001-02 Lakers. Chemistry out the ass. Just ask Kobe how it tastes.

As far as I can tell, only six teams have a chance to win the title: Cleveland (the favorite); Dallas, Los Angeles and Orlando (the contenders); Utah (the wild card) and Phoenix (the people's choice).

Except every team that makes the playoffs has a chance. That's why they play the games.

If this truly was a Chemistry Season, that means Cleveland would play the winner of the Dallas-Phoenix Round 2 series in the Finals.

Dallas is down 3-1 to the Spurs. And what makes the Mavs have more chemistry than a San Antonio team with its three core players still playing together for years?

Up until Robin Lopez got hurt, I would have picked Phoenix mostly because of Nash and Amare Stoudemire, who quietly spent the past three months becoming the guy who torched Duncan in the 2005 playoffs again. If Lopez can come back for Round 2, this is Nash's best chance for a title. My favorite subplot of the playoffs. See …

Robin Lopez gives Steve Nash his best chance to win a title. Got it.

I can prove that Steve Nash was a worthy No. 4 MVP choice this year

Name me a star player with a harder job this season.

Dwyane Wade.

His shooting guard went into a funk for half the season. His sixth man missed half the year. His meal-ticket power forward obsessed over his own future for three months and nearly got dumped at the deadline. He's had two starting centers, and just when the second one was hitting his stride he got knocked out indefinitely. He had to carry the offense in crunch time for half the season (his 82games.com "clutch" numbers: 43.4 points per 48 minutes, compared to 27.5 for Amare); not really his game, and besides, he's too freaking old to do that. Or at least, he should be. None of it mattered. Phoenix won 54 games and has the most momentum of any Western team heading into the playoffs.

It must have been the chemistry!

The Suns' season could have fallen apart at a bunch of different points. It never did. Nash gets the credit. I remember hearing he re-signed last summer for three more years and thinking, "Why the hell would he do that?" The Suns seemed like a sinking ship. In America, we're used to superstars who find themselves stuck on a sinking ship, then bolt for greener pastures or selfishly demand a trade without considering the ramifications of that request. (Basically, they just announced to their teammates, "I don't think you guys are good enough to play with me." The situation immediately becomes irreparable. They don't care. They just want to leave. It's like self-sabotage.) Nash never would have done that. He's Canadian. He's loyal. He's the leader. Leaders are supposed to lead.

What does the fact that he's Canadian have to with it? Answer: Nothing. At all.

So he stayed, and he led, and they followed, and now they're here.

I thought it was his greatest season because of the degree of difficulty: Thirty-six-year-olds shouldn't be milking their statistical primes (16.5 PPG, 11.0 APG, 51% FG, 43% 3FG, 94% FT, unprecedented numbers for a point guard his age), performing open-heart surgery on teammates (in this case, Amare) and turning fringe playoff teams into explosive contenders. As recently as this winter, Steve Nash probably thought his Finals chances had come and gone, remembered the bad breaks in 2005 (Joe Johnson's broken face), 2006 (Amare's knee), 2007 (the suspensions) and 2008 (Duncan's 3), then said to himself, "I wish I could press the RESET button and get one more chance." Consider it pressed.

It's like when the Madden computer says, "No way you're going to win this game," makes you fumble a million times, so you press the reset button.

Either way, his brilliant 2010 season reinvented him historically. Now we're looking at a career.

If Steve Nash retired last season, we still would have looked at his career in awe. It didn't reinvent shit. It just confirmed that Steve Nash is all sorts of good, which we already knew.

Ten straight top-notch years, nine 50-win seasons, two MVPs (whether you agreed with the choices or not), seven All-Star games, three first-team All-NBAs, the best shooting percentages in the history of the point guard position, and pole position for the "guard everyone in his generation would have loved playing with most" contest over Kidd.

Without this season, we would have never even seen that "career."

A Finals appearance would be the cherry on the Steve Nash First-Ballot Hall of Famer Sundae. As always, stay tuned.

And watch all my predictions/truths fall by the wayside!

BallHype: hype it up!

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