One Final Bow, Havoc

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about losing in college basketball for The Classical. My story originally began this way, as an elegy of the season that the VCU Rams had, its various ebbs and flows, before I decided to re-gear. When Shaka Smart left for Texas last week, I thought that it made a lot more sense to show you this. The edit-god David Roth helped significantly in mashing these boiled potatoes into what you have here.

“Did you ever see that octopus that came out of the water and ate the crab?” asks the bartender. It was perilously late at night, and I was out of town.

“No way,” I reply, between bites of pickled carrots and red sauce. I could be honest about my cowardice; I would be leaving town soon. “Every headline is ‘Fuel of nightmares.’ Why would I get into that?”

Why does anybody? She made me watch it on her phone, and it somewhat lived up to its horrific stature. I tipped well. After stumbled back to room for the night and slept as easy as I ever do, with thoughts of the long snow of the north and also of this blissful time on a lake last summer, and with the inescapable feeling that whatever was catching up to me would do so, and maybe soon. An octopus? In the morning, there was basketball.

* * *

D'Angelo Russell is better at his chosen sport, more naturally gifted, than most people deserve to be at anything. In Ohio State’s NCAA Tournament game against VCU, Russell sunk three-pointers again and again, and the feeling was, well, this is who he is—a skillful, marketable NBA lottery pick. Reggie Miller howled about Russell from within his cocoon of nothingness, every blast of hot air an admonishment towards Stephen Curry's eventual overtaking of any remaining professional record that Miller owns. The VCU Rams were still ahead at the half, but the momentum had changed, and VCU’s famed “Havoc”—a lauded two-way scheme of press, man-to-man half-court defense, threes, and dunks cooked up half a decade ago by wunderkind coach Shaka Smart—was in the process of being undone by the speed and strength of the Ohio State backcourt. The end hung over VCU like a low cloud.

Early in their season, the same five men were nightly stalwarts: Treveon Graham, the hard-nosed, chuck-it-up senior captain; Melvin Johnson, a flame-throwing long distance specialist named Melvin; Jordan Burgess, a defensive guard compared regularly to his greater brother Bradford, an alum whose luminous number (five, or something like it) hung in the rafters back in Richmond; Mo Alie-Cox, a developing badass in the model of Kenneth Faried—stocky, wide, but better at blocking. And there was Briante Weber, the best defensive player in the conference, a natural pain in the ass, and both the team’s leader on the floor and very nearly Division I’s all-time leader for steals by a human being. The mark surely would have been his, and before the tournament began, had Weber not torn a bunch of ligaments in his knee on January 31.

Weber's knee crumbled on a play late in a game against VCU’s comparatively bourgie hometown rival Richmond. Weber's injury, which crumpled up a prosaic and familiar drive-and-kick, felt like a choreographed homage to more important ACL tears of the past, with the difference that Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, and Ricky Rubio all made money while recovering from theirs. The Rams struggled immensely after, losing to Richmond once more after that, then Dayton and Davidson in a row, as well as to some other mid-major opponents not worth mentioning.

Eventually, they rallied and re-shaped, as this team has done over and over during Smart’s tenue. By the time of the the Atlantic 10 Men's Basketball Tournament—this is how I came to watch that Octopus on a bartender’s phone, while eating something called a Meatball Salad, in Brooklyn—they were back to something both like and unlike themselves. The seats next to the ones I shared with my friend, a diehard VCU fan, stayed empty until Saturday when humans realized they might actually go home without a crushing defeat. From those seats I saw those around me realize that revenge against Richmond, Davidson, and Dayton in a row could be syrupy and luscious, and never too filling.

After nearly losing to Fordham, Smart changed the team's rotations, starting rangy freshman Terry Larrier, who despite his numbers—which are remarkably unimpressive for being a highly touted prospect—provided a length of twine, several different widths of needles, and a button allowing the Rams a greater flexibility on defensive assignments, and outside offensive integrity. Larrier, for all his immaturity, had considerable prowess solving the puzzle of the 2-3 zone.

The Rams started to shred, and the revenge tour was on. They got weird, playing at times with four wings and one point guard, four wings and one forward, or the full no-fucks-to-give order of five wings. Brooks was kind of terrible, more or less in foul trouble the entire time, but there was a sense that it was satisfactory with management. Graham's worst predilections towards senseless, foul-baiting hurling seemed to be held at bay by good defense; he shot 2-of-11 against Richmond in the quarterfinals, but made five of six from the line. Hoisted into eminence by Weber's injury, new point guard Jequan Lewis did pretty well. Together, the team was able to build a barn, plant crops, and win the Atlantic 10 conference championship, clinching an already known terminus in the NCAA tournament. I had to catch a bus, so I missed Weber cutting down the net on his crutches, and doing a happy dance at half court in a Robocop-grade knee brace.

* * *

We go by a few rules, as a matter of being humans in the year 2015. Firstly, the 2-3 zone is an impossible fortress and those who can breach it deserve to be on our currency. Secondly, octopus are (apparently) alpha predators beyond anything of our wildest imagining, and they will—they will—haunt your dreams. Thirdly, Midwestern land grant universities were overtaken long ago by the hungry taste of television blood money—make a Ravenous Predatory Octopus joke here yourself, if you like!—and because of that, there is no sporting schadenfreude as hot as seeing a team from a None Of This Is Really Ethical, Let's Be Honest Sports Conference lose to one that isn’t. None that is legal, anyway.

But also there is D’Angelo Russell, and that was enough to end the season for VCU. The Rams' fervent passion for man-to-man defense was easily countered with their simultaneous fear of fouling, an after-effect of an NCAA referee mantra to “call basically all contact.” In their zone, the Buckeyes were largely able to resist the Rams’ small-ball offensive pressure. It was close, but it worked. Russell would struggle in the next game, likely the last of his college career, but he revealed himself to be very much  the kind of player that Phil Jackson should feel fine about being fined for scouting.

Even as VCU went down, they were tinkering and innovating and trying strange things. A super-small lineup—all wings and one point guard—provided a boost later into the second half, with 6'5” guard Burgess guarding the equivalent of the Buckeyes' center. VCU made it to overtime with Mo Alie-Cox fouled out, and their effort and persistence seemed to be rewarded. They turned the ball over too much in the extra session, and they weren’t.

I texted with my friend Alex late after the game, which VCU lost by three. I told him I was hopeful for the team, which was only losing three players to graduation and had already proven that it could work around just about anything.
“College sports are different, because you only get a few years to cheer for your favorite players,” he said. “Eventually, they all graduate, or transfer, or get interested, or even lose interest. Even coaches are never permanent as the prospect of greater jobs always looms. But within this transience, there's also a certain permanence, in that memories of temporary heroes will always remain.” 

So maybe, Briante Weber isn’t leaving after all. Maybe none of them ever will.

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Why Every Team Should Trade For J.R. Smith

From one moment to the next, an onlooker is unable to see if J.R. Smith will play basketball, or if he will be playing basketball. I love watching J.R., but this tendency towards the unpredictable and irrational has caused a great number of Knicks fans (and other basketball-watching humans) to become tired of the nine-year veteran, which makes some sense - after all, how long can you hear the same joke over and over before it becomes grating?

Naturally, I've figured out ways and reasons why every single NBA team should trade for this provocative player.

*   *   *
Chicago Bulls

There is no loss like the loss of a love, and losing the help of Derrick Rose and Luol Deng in the same season must be very difficult for Tom Thibodeau. Looking at Tony Snell, Mike Dunleavy, and the corpse of Kirk Hinrich in practice doing whatever weird shit and realizing that they’ll be playing heavy minutes in your complex, orthopedic defense schemes? My heart aches for you Tom, but luckily, there is a solvent, a deadly chemical just looking for rebranding with a new coach. And where else would J.R. thrive but in the Second City, the first town that drafted him? Let J.R. set Chicago ablaze again.

The trade: Kirk Hinrich and Marquis Teague for J.R. Smith

Cleveland Cavaliers

With Luol Deng’s arrival in town providing a bit of veteran leadership for this young Cavs team, there is still the concern of Prince Knucklehead Dion Waiters, whose style seems Larry Hughes at best, Larry Hughes at worst (we are on the same page regarding Larry Hughes and/or Dion Waiters at this point, correct?). The choice is clear. Why play with a Prince when you can have the King right now? There’s no way that Matthew Dellavedova should be starting for a playoff basketball team at this point in his young career, and there’s no chance that the Cavaliers can even make the playoffs without J.R. Smith on the roster.

The trade: Anthony Bennett and Carrick Felix for J.R. Smith

Detroit Pistons

Let’s just say this first: things haven’t worked out as planned. It’s possible that signing a highly inaccurate point guard and a highly inaccurate tweener wasn’t the best plan to assist in the growth of two of the best young post players in the league. Things can, and should be, remade in the Motor City. If Chrysler could do it, why can’t the Pistons? Smith is a perfect backcourt partner for Brandon Jennings, J.R. Smith’s brash style could be thrown into the mix as easy as James Dolan can mumble, gazing into a Ziplock freezer bag filled with human blood, "trade for Rodney Stuckey."

The trade: Rodney Stuckey for J.R. Smith, Pablo Prigioni, and Cole Aldrich

Indiana Pacers

At the top of the Eastern Conference, Indiana hasn't done much wrong this season. It only makes sense to provide additional insurance to their dominance by trading for one of the best role players in the league, J.R. Smith. Because of the logjam at SF/PF, Chris Copeland has been disappointing to Pacers fans, but he would be a welcome sight for sore eyes in New York. Smith, meanwhile, would assist with the already steady backcourt, and with Frank Vogel's tutelage would likely revive many of the defensive skills he has been missing this season. Importantly, Smith's contract and many abilities is a safe piece of insurance if Lance Stephenson leaves in the off-season.

The trade: Chris Copeland, Rasual Butler, and Orlando Jones for J.R. Smith

Milwaukee Bucks

After a campaign in Dallas last fall that seemed like the perfect "fuck you" after several years struggling with himself in Memphis, O.J. Mayo fell off dramatically upon Dirk Nowitzki's arrival and somehow landed a pretty great contract with Milwaukee. Unfortunately, Mayo hasn't played like the first option he probably wanted to be, and with yet another young point guard overwhelming his combo guard tendencies, he desperately needs to engage himself in some self discovery. J.R. Smith is more in line with the identity of the Bucks than Mayo is, and his catch-and-shoot abilities (which would be of use with Brandon Knight) remain glorious despite issues with time management. The Bucks wouldn't even be tanking here - they'd be getting one of the strongest young players in the league at little cost.

The trade: O.J. Mayo for J.R. Smith and Beno Udrih

*  *  *
Golden State Warriors

The Warriors are coasting right now, likely due to the return of Andre Iguodala and the continued strong play of their non-injured starters (Curry, Lee, et al). As we know, the bench is not so deep, and thus trading J.R. Smith to the Warriors would be a play to make up for a significant part of their weakness in the offseason, where their free agent signings were, besides Iguodala, questionable at best. Smith is no Jarrett Jack in terms of ball control, but he's probably better than any alternative. Playing at last with a top 5 point guard and multiple capable big men, Smith could jack up as many 26 foot three pointers as he wanted, and it's likely it would help Andrew Bogut's offensive rebounding numbers as well.

The trade: Marresse Speights and Jermaine O'Neal for J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin

Los Angeles Clippers

Okay, I have to be honest, this is the only team in the league where I think there is the depth, contract lengths, and overall roster quality where J.R. Smith's services aren't immediately needed. This is hard to talk myself into. I have my minor qualms, but this is a team with six players at an above average PER, and the loose spots in the roster (i.e. Willie Green seeing any playing time) will be taken care of with the return of J.J. Redick and eventually, Chris Paul. While Jared Dudley has been sort of disappointing, he is by no means a lost cause, and though Matt Barnes has complained about his "shithead" role openly, he will likely be an important role player despite unimpressive stats. If anything, Smith would be an excellent acquisition due to his propensity for flopping, and if there's anything the Clippers need more of, it's flopping.

The trade: Matt Barnes, Willie Green, and 2014 1st Round Pick for J.R. Smith

Los Angeles Lakers

Though Kobe Bryant is sure to come back from injury and be the old Kobe in no time at all, the Lakers could use some insurance for a possibly disastrous 2014 free agency period by trading for one of the better shooting guards in the league, giving up very little in return. After a long winter in New York, J.R. Smith could use the Vitamin D of Los Angeles' climate, and besides, Smith has more upside than Meeks, more skills than Nick Young, and a giddier desire to play D'Antoni-ball than the sulking Kaman. If Mitch Kupchak is serious about the Lakers not giving up the ghost - which they shouldn't, considering the talents of Bryant, Gasol, and others - J.R.'s contract will likely look like a bargain by the time his time is up.

The trade: Chris Kaman and Jodie Meeks for J.R. Smith

Phoenix Suns

When considering trades with the Suns, things are exceptionally difficult compared to how things seemed in the pre-season. How can you break up a really cheap team on pace to win almost 50 games? I've come up with some ground rules: 1) You can't trade Dragic while Bledsoe is hurt, or vice versa 2) You can't split up the Morris twins, 3) Channing Frye is a Sun for life. Thankfully, Alex Len seems pretty terrible, and the Suns are below the cap, so there are options. Moving P.J. Tucker would give Gerald Green, at small forward, carte blanche through the end of this season to hurl three pointers at a glorious pace, and J.R. Smith would replace Tucker as the "guy with initials for a first name" in the rotation. As we know, Smith is a pretty incredible sixth man when motivated, and if both Bledsoe and Dragic were healthy, it's hard to not imagine that team doing great things in an unconventional way. Also, Dionte Christmas is included on this deal (though not necessary) to allow for a "Christmas in New York" headline next year.

The trade: Alex Len, P.J. Tucker, and Dionte Christmas for J.R. Smith

Sacramento Kings

I had been working on a trade for Rudy Gay involving Andrea Bargnani as well, but the CBA disallowed a trade with Gay until the offseason due to his recent move, so here we are. The Kings have had a weird relationship with both Thornton and Fredette for seemingly decades now, and this would get it over with, as well as give the Knicks a "prospect" which they could attempt to develop before trading him for an even worse player. Meanwhile, Smith would fit comfortably with Isaiah Thomas as a thrilling, speedy backcourt. Felton is undoubtedly a step up from their current backup point guard. Though it would inevitably push Ben McLemore closer to making artisan gravity bongs in Oregon, J.R. Smith's veteran influence in Sacramento would be positive and a contribution towards relevance in the Western Conference.

The trade: Marcus Thornton and Jimmer Fredette for J.R. Smith and Raymond Felton

*  *  *
Denver Nuggets

While Smith has certainly peaked with the Knicks, it's no surprise that many of us old-timers (people who have been watching basketball for over 3 years) savor his stint on the Nuggets with nostalgia, like the feeling of sitting in a worn rocking chair on the porch of the home your mother grew up in. Smith is the sweet smell of wicker, the seat frayed on the corners from the tortoise-shell pattern cat she had as a girl, putting its claws in and stretching while she did her homework, sitting in the warm spring sun. As she looked out that window on the porch, she rocked back in warm comfort, looking down at Lucy, and the chair creaked in ways familiar. She would never be a great student, but in that chair, she did some of her best work.

The trade: Andre Miller for J.R. Smith

Minnesota Timberwolves

As Kevin Love vaguely threatens to leave the glitz and glamour of Minneapolis-St. Paul in press reports, it would be smart of Timberwolves management to consider, "Well, maybe we should do something to keep him." Trading for J.R. Smith and a veteran point guard in Beno Udrih would convey both seriousness towards the future, and a strong present desire to win. Smith would contribute incredibly to the rotation, and fit into Rick Adelman's plans for the team better than J.J. Barea or Corey Brewer currently can. 

The trade: Alexey Shved and Shabazz Muhammad for J.R. Smith and Beno Udrih

Oklahoma City Thunder

I read an article with Jeff Green yesterday where he said, basically, "[My Thunder teams] would've won a championship if we had the veteran attitudes that we have now." It's hard to realize what you have until after the fact, I guess. For some reason, it reminds me of the Beatles and their solo/Wings albums in the years after. Is this season for Kevin Durant the equivalent of McCartney II? Does that make Reggie Jackson "Temporary Secretary"? I don't know; I don't really want to play that game. The Thunder are great because of Kevin Durant and the idea of Russell Westbrook, but they are a flawed team with cheap management and ownership, and no scorers. J.R. Smith would absolutely fit on the Thunder, more than most teams even (seriously), and while the "James Harden role" will never be replaced, Smith would provide an additional 15 shots a game that Derek Fisher is likely thinking about taking right now.

The trade: Jeremy Lamb and Derek Fisher for J.R. Smith

Portland Trail Blazers

I walked home in these new shoes the other day. I thought it was going to be drier than it was, downtown by the hospitals, the feet of the masses pressing home themselves, a weary eyed bunch, from a long day in economic and emotional servitude to the hearts of the lost and weakened among us. Empathy is hard on a person, even when you're getting paid. Hundreds of boots marching towards the train, the bottoms of scrubs tucked into the heavy thick padding on the sides. It was colder, but drier than it is now, and even despite that and that quiet, wet trek home, these shoes got wet, the edges caked with salt, and now I have to trade them for Dorell Wright because I can't get anything better.

The trade: Dorell Wright and Joel Freeland for J.R. Smith

Utah Jazz

The poor Jazz are in last place in the Western Conference, and despite their rosy cheeks, are in desperate need of a player on the caliber of J.R. Smith. Besides Alec Burks and Gordon Hayward, they have very few swingmen that can make their own shot, and Smith could make many of those shots, and possibly more (hundreds more). With the possibility of Hayward leaving in the off-season, Smith would fill a void at a low price. In the short term, Smith would likely take minutes from Richard Jefferson and Diante Garrett, but considering J.R. tearing up the slopes and taking pictures of himself with mountain goats is worth that negative prospect.

The trade: Jeremy Evans, Brandon Rush, and a 2015 2nd round pick for J.R. Smith

*  *  *
Atlanta Hawks

Al Horford’s absence for the rest of the season likely means that the Hawks will be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs instead of the second round in the playoffs, but it also means that there are a lot of shots to be found in Atlanta for the foreseeable future. With Lou Williams still coming back from injury, a fresh dose of J.R. Smith could be just what the Hawks need to patch up their roster. Imagine a future of Jeff Teague dishing it out to J.R. in the corner for an open three, while I dunno, Gustavo Ayon or something claps wildly on the sidelines. Yet another perfect fit for J.R.!

The trade: Elton Brand and John Jenkins for J.R. Smith

Charlotte Bobcats

For seasons now, J.R. Smith has looked onward as his coworkers have attained greater fame and notoriety than he has, regardless of his paramount skills on the basketball court. He has been overlooked his entire career while sharing the court with Speedy Claxton and Chris Paul on the Hornets, then by Carmelo Anthony for almost a decade on both the Nuggets and Knicks. If we look at what good it seems to have done both of them, it seems clear that this marriage was never meant to be. In America's Premier Financial Services Capital, J.R. Smith could shine in a way he has never been able to, and with a young, active point guard in Kemba Walker and a dominant big man in Al Jefferson, J.R. Smith could finally attain what he's always wanted: a team of his own.

The trade: Gerald Henderson for J.R. Smith

Miami Heat

The defending champions are certainly at no lack for talent, but beyond this season, this roster is up in the air beyond James, Wade, Bosh, and Norris Cole I think? Are there more? With eight expiring contracts, the Heat are depending on bargains in the off-season, but with the parity carved out by the new CBA, many other teams will have space to add good free agents as well. Despite his foibles, J.R. Smith looks like an excellent player into the foreseeable future, and the perfect type of player to fit into the system that Spolestra has in place. We can laugh at the idea of Smith and Michael Beasley sharing spaces on the same bench, but Beasley has looked great, and Smith would feel rejuvenated as well. This would be scary and awesome.

The trade: Mario Chalmers and Joel Anthony for J.R. Smith, Metta World Peace, and Cole Aldrich

Orlando Magic

The Magic are a top lottery team again this season, but the least they could do is make their returning young players happy. Unfortunately, there's a logjam at tweeny positions, and Maurice Harkless (here-forth referred to as Mo Harkless) is stuck behind players better than he is, like Glen Davis, Tobias Harris, Jason Maxiell, Andrew Nicholson, Arron Afflalo, and several others. The least they could do is trade Mo to a place where it's understandable that you're a backup because you're playing behind Carmelo Anthony. In that scenario, Smith would become the benefactor of good, solid minutes for a terrible team, and get to ruin some assist opportunities for Weird Jameer Nelson or Oladipo. It would be okay for all parties involved, but the Magic would get slightly better as a result.

The trade: Mo Harkless, Ronnie Price, 2014 2nd Round Pick for J.R. Smith and Toure' Murray

Washington Wizards

A stacked rotation for the Wizards, as Trevor Ariza enjoys the spoils of a career season, makes trading away one of the best bench small forwards an acceptable idea. Where things may lead with J.R. aren't clear; not particularly known for his political skills, Smith may find himself overwhelmed in the Beltway, as K Street fat cats attempt to get him to sell out, to settle for more high percentage shots in exchange for a taste at power. Would J.R. taste the Golden Fruit, or remain himself?

The trade: Martell Webster and Eric Maynor for J.R. Smith and Toure' Murray

*  *  *
Dallas Mavericks

Rick Carlisle's team has loved to play fast this season, and with J.R. Smith adding both youth and speed to the mix, the Mavericks might average 120 points for the rest of the season. Smith would allow Carlisle to take it a little easier on Monta Ellis and Vince Carter, and the prospect of small-ball with Calderon/Ellis/Smith/Marion/Dirk is a glorious, glorious thing. Additionally, Texas' adorable lack of a state income tax would allow Smith to keep more of his money, which he could spend on a stable full of horses, a mansion full of butlers, and Shirley Temples at country clubs. 

The trade: Samuel Dalembert and Wayne Ellington for J.R. Smith and Cole Aldrich

Houston Rockets

Like the Warriors, the Rockets lack much depth beyond their excellent starters, and J.R. Smith would be a perfect sixth man for a fantastic Houston rotation. In lineups with Smith coming off the bench, Harden could either play the 2 or the 3, and the thought of those two looping around off the ball is pure basketball heaven. Heaven, it was once posited by Belinda Carlisle, is a place on earth called Houston, Texas. Ridding Houston of Omer Asik would provide an obvious chemistry boost to this team, and the kicker of Metta World Peace returning to the Rockets would give both Chandler Parsons and Terrence Jones a break in his limited minutes.

The trade: Omer Asik for J.R. Smith and Metta World Peace

Memphis Grizzlies

It's clear that the Grizzlies are hurting without Marc Gasol, but their biggest hole right now is in the wing positions. Tayshaun Prince had significantly less in the tank than the Grizzlies had bargained for upon trading away Rudy Gay, and while a stream of league-minimum replacements has been cost-effective, they remain a team on edge. Acquiring J.R. Smith would allow Memphis some flexibility upon Marc's return, some stability in the future, and importantly for this team ranked at the bottom of the West in scoring, provide some desperately needed offense. A team with J.R. Smith and Tony Allen at the wings isn't just an amazing Twitter duo - it would be a playoffs team.

The trade: Ed Davis and Mike Miller for J.R. Smith

New Orleans Pelicans

The Pellies are a battered bunch recently, having lost Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday to long-term injury, putting plums (Miles Plums, specifically) right in the middle of their playoff hopes. Anthony Davis is a brilliant, interdimensional basketball player, but he need not carry this team, especially when the services of J.R. Smith are available for a mere draft pick and several million dollars of inefficient basketball players in return. Importantly for Pelicans brass, Smith carries a pulse and has the ability – no, the raw, wanton desire – to hurl a ball from up to 30 feet away, towards a target, with reasonable accuracy. This would be awesome, like a gator leaping out of the bayou to bite a heron.

The trade: Austin Rivers, Greg Stiemsma, and Jeff Withey for J.R. Smith

San Antonio Spurs

If we allow ourselves some more honesty, we can say outloud, “Well, the Spurs would never do this.” But friends, they should. Danny Green has a bit of difficulty this season, regressing a touch, and with Marco Belinelli coming on strong, it makes sense to jettison for a stronger player before Tim Duncan becomes too old to breathe. Whether off the bench or starting, J.R. Smith would play excellently for the reigning Western Conference champions, and Greg Popovich and his staff's strong dedication to player development would allow Smith to shake the dust off his dormant, but existent, defensive skills. Where might J.R. help take the Spurs?

The trade: Danny Green and Cory Joseph for J.R. Smith

*  *  *
Brooklyn Nets

The Nets are built to "win now," and while they've been successful since January 1, with Deron Williams returning to his injured ways, any luck they seem to have may be a weird fluke. What Billy King needs to do now is set the Nets up for the future, with one of the most electric, polarizing, and biggest assholes in sports over the past five years (J.R. Smith). There is one sensible trade for the Knicks and Nets to make, in order to cleanse both teams of a curse begun in last year's playoffs, when J.R. elbowed Terry in the face in Game 3 of Knicks/Celtics, and set both Smith and Terry with a horrible hex (the hex involves true shooting percentage). I have spoken with several members of Cambridge's large community of witches, and sources tell me that the most certain way to remove the curse on both men is by having them swap teams and later, drink a Hex-Cleansing Brew in a strip club together. It makes sense.

The trade: Jason Terry for J.R. Smith

Boston Celtics

The Celtics are on the verge of a full-on collapse, and if there’s anything that they could use right this instant, it’s a little heart, a little enthusiasm for life. The frozen fans in Boston aren’t getting that from Gerald Wallace’s repeated calls for harder play, but they would get it from J.R. Smith windmill dunking on that beautiful parquet floor. Brad Stevens can explore more small-ball lineups, and now with Courtney Lee traded away, there’s an opportunity at the wing positions that Smith could leap into. With a starting lineup of Rondo, Crawford, Smith, Green, and Sullinger, could these Celtics make the second round… this season?

The trade: Brandon Bass for J.R. Smith

New York Knicks

If we reason that there are parallel universes than our own, it seems reasonable in the very least that there is a New York Knicks team where J.R. Smith is not a knucklehead who unties shoes and ruins basketball, and is instead a positive teammate, a polite human being, and someone who enjoys bird watching and making pipes more than ingestion of class scheduled substances and giving pipes. He might be a little boring by our J.R. standards, but really he's just a slightly less of an asshole: he has the same tattoos and can still dunk very well. There is also a miniature Amar'e Stoudemire, like two feet tall but with the exact same proportions, and our universe's Knicks are trading for him too.

The trade: J.R. Smith for J.R. Smith and miniature Amar'e Stoudemire

Philadelphia 76ers

It's pretty rare for two divisional 'rivals' to trade with each other, but considering that the Knicks and Sixers haven't faced each other in the playoffs since 1989, I'm not going to think of this as a big deal despite of the geographic closeness between New York and Philadelphia. Since the Sixers are starting Hollis Thompson and James Anderson at shooting guard right now, J.R. Smith would be a significant upgrade without much chance of ruining their lottery hopes. Meanwhile, Evan Turner - who says no? - would be an excellent Swiss Army Knife for the Knicks, providing youth for at least another year and a half, and at a small increase in cost. And in the chance that FREE J.R. becomes a sensation in Philadelphia (quite possible!), they can always trade Thaddeus Young for scraps with a contender.

The trade: Evan Turner for J.R. Smith

Toronto Raptors

Masai Ujiri has been waiting for this call.

The trade: Landry Fields and Drake for J.R. Smith

*  *  *

The contracts above are verifiable through the RealGM Trade Checker (I would have used the ESPN Trade Machine, but because Smith's contract was signed in this past off-season, they do not allow even the casual fan to explore trade options until January 15, when actual GMs can begin exploring trade options).

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The NSA Transcript of Paul Pierce & Kevin Garnett's Late Night Phone Call

Late into a sweltering night, PP stands in the dining room of a large, suburban home, decorated with modern accessories. These accessories include: a long glass aquarium; unwieldy, tall chairs made of light metal; an empty salad bowl made of tempered, frosted glass. He gently places an empty white wine glass on the granite countertop and swallows the last bit.

PP walks down a short hallway decorated with family photos. In one, he wears a Bugle Boy t-shirt with a cartoon cat on it, a pair of brown, 9” oxford shorts, white ankle socks, and no shoes. Standing closely next to him is an elderly white man clutching a cane, his balding head dotted with the spots of old age. They are both smiling and holding hamburgers. He looks at himself in the reflection of the photograph and squints, and wishes his beard came in fuller, and that he owned more than one t-shirt.

He peers into the rooms of his sleeping children, at their glowing, resting faces, and reaching his office, sits in a large green hand chair. There is an old fashioned telephone on the desk next to him. He looks at it with hesitation before picking up. He wipes a single tear off his cheek, and speaking into the receiver, PP asks the old-timey operator woman to connect him to 1-888-GARNETT.

KG (leans back in beach chair): This is Sparta.

PP: Hi, Paul here. I understand it’s late…

KG: I’m on the West Coast right now. I think it’s somewhere around 3, 4PM. It’s fine.

PP: I can’t sleep. They’re going to trade me to New Jersey. Danny needs you to waive your clause so they can get something back for me.

KG: Look, I know this is a long time coming. They’ve been trying to get me to do this for two, three seasons, ever since my knee got fucked up. I just need you to know that there’s no fucking way I dress up as Santa Claus next season. Not even for one game.

PP: They need to trade you, too. They want you on the Nets.

KG: I don’t understand this, man. They push Doc out, they don't resign Tony, they get rid of Big Baby. This world makes no sense to me. I can’t go to New Jersey, where am I gonna get Greek pizza?

PP (sinks into hand chair): I can’t do this alone.

KG: I can’t give up this clause, Paul. Not yet. This is a big deal for me. I wanted to retire with a franchise that had some dignity, respect to it.

PP: Me too. But this is a real bad time for us. The CBA put us in a real bad position.

KG: It was bad. How much money do you think Byron Mullens is going to get?

PP: All of it.

KG: Big men just ain’t built like they used to be.

PP: He wants more than Danny can offer. His hands are tied without you waiving your clause. They can never get Byron without you waiving your clause.

KG: He’s Danny’s style, too. Tall, lumbering, no skills.

PP: For a franchise that has a lot of dignity and respect in its public reputation, it’s incredible how attractive Boston is to free agents.

KG: It’s an awful city filled with old ships.

PP: They’re putting in an “ice bar” as a tourist attraction.

KG: It’s hot outside, even in this mid-afternoon dark. I’m looking at a woman on this beach right now who is dressed like a bumblebee. I don’t know what else I would ever want in a woman. Can I tell you a joke, Paul? I just heard this shit.

PP: I could use a laugh. The thought of going back to Boston after this, I don’t know. I’ve always felt like I’ve worn my soul as a suit, and this feels like all of the moths outside of my pastoral estate have rushed in and are eating this suit, just tearing it apart, and I can’t stop crying. I just can't stop crying.

KG: Let me tell you this joke JET told me.

PP: Thanks, I'd appreciate it.

KG: Ten years ago, we had Bob Hope…

PP (puts head in hands): Oh god, no…

KG: … Johnny Cash …

PP: I’m going to hang up, man.

KG: … and Steve Jobs.

PP: This is actually making me feel worse.

KG: I’m sorry. I’m just trying to take the edge off things.

PP: I know, it’s a joke. Just think about Brooklyn for a minute. They have pickup games there, real ones.

KG: Drew League is gonna be down the street soon. Maybe I should go blow out my knee?

PP: You should, right after you sign with Brooklyn with me. Have you ever had a cronut?

KG: I haven’t.

PP: Let me tell you about these cronuts. They’re half-croissant, half-donut. It’s a thing. They’re filled with cream and jelly and…

KG (interrupts): How does that work? Are they flaky?

PP: They’re flaky. They’re filled with this delicious sweet cream and this jam, reduction, whatever, and they’re topped with raspberry frosting.

KG: That sounds delicious. I love flakes.

PP: I’ve had one. They don’t have it in Boston. They don’t have shit in Boston.

KG: Do they have it in New Haven?

PP: They don’t have an NBA team in New Haven. They have Apizza. It's pizza covered in clams. They got these new Citibikes in New York, this bike sharing network, it looks real great. We could do it together.

KG: I wish they traded us to the Clippers.

PP: Me too.

KG: All right, buddy, I'm coming.

PP: Thank you.

PP hangs up old-timey telephone, and sitting in his hand chair, sheds one more single tear for Boston, his home for so long, a city rooted in history. He glances at his office's walls at the photography, memorabilia, symbols from his life for the last fifteen years. PP wakes his children and his wife, gathers them outside of their home, then lights a match and sets the house ablaze.

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How Do You Say "Thanks" to Paul Pierce?

It was nice to see that the Boston Celtics had their marketing department buy space in today’s Globe, and published a full-page thanking Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett for their years of playing basketball. It was a kind move on their part to increase the weekday advertising revenue for a struggling newspaper. However, reusing marketing catchphrases (“Banner #17,” “Celtic Pride,” etc.) along with appreciating "hard work" indicates a hollow, blank understanding of the way that fans view players or teams, and a miscalculation in terms of how psychologically devastating the trade of their two most beloved players actually is.

When you need a couple weeks to get used to the idea of a player being traded, is it a matter of a brain being stuck in an era of "franchise players," or an uncomfortable reflection of my own mortality? I dunno, dawg. I've heard a million times: "This is for the best." It continues to ring wrong, and it comes down to money.

Long-term, this feels like a cost-cutting measure through attrition – and people who pay for tickets next season or for the next several seasons are nothing more than encouraging disaster tourism by allowing a small number of wealthy lions to continue to wildly prosper. By stocking up on draft picks for the next five years, it seems clear that management would rather gamble on cheap contracts than spend their personal profits paying the luxury tax. I don't feel comfortable supporting that. In a large city where an NBA team's owners' resources are in financial services, money is had everywhere and lavishly like in no other industry (besides basketball, according to ownership).

Although I appreciate the gesture mentioning "hard work," what fans are thankful for is much different and more complicated than what a multi-million dollar company is ultimately appreciative of. The people of this city, known throughout this country as being curmudgeonly racist, are also miserable most of the time because of terrible weather, poverty, social injustice, crappy aging parents, gender inequality, public transportation, blue laws, a lack of well-paying meaningful careers, national politics, large student populations, cold ocean water, and terrible pizza.

While that and the racism thing might be true for Red Sox fans, not every Celtics fan is culturally white and bound to that stereotype (though still, fuck those who still are). Over the last several years, the Celtics of Pierce and Garnett have given all of this city's basketball fans a positivity that it was lacking for a long time before, at which time the positivity was a cause célèbre of mostly white Anglo-Saxons (because Larry Bird, as you well know, is a white guy). These Celtics were heroic, were just as good as those men of legend, and now they're gone.

The people of this area can be thankful we made our own legends to alleviate some of our woes, and we can be bullshit that the management of the Celtics have taken that away before they were allowed to fade out and be replaced in natural peace. We don't need to argue for the pick-laden future, like little venture capitalists stuffing money into our elastic rodent mouths, because there is no incentive in that besides silliness and pointless hand-wringing.

We are thankful up here in this miserable city, drenched in sweat, soaked in the litter of a deep summer.

And we are thankful down here on the ragged, rocky shores, where we step timorously to avoid the hermit crab scuttling.

And we are thankful up where our legs are scratched to pieces, as sunlight breaks through the thin limbs of birch trees.

What the Celtics organization have instead given us in this "thanks" is fairly self-fellating. Management scuttled players who brought basketball fandom back to Boston away to save money, to “rebuild," under a collective bargaining agreement that has destroyed much player agency and lowered ceilings for well-meaning players in order to stay close to a severely limiting cap. "Rebuilding" is a word without meaning at this point, considering the many definitions that it has, but it's hard to rebuild if the ownership isn't willing to give you a ladder. Think about it: ten years later, Sacramento is still rebuilding from cheap ownership. Phoenix is starving. This isn't a rebuild. Considering the financial auspices of the CBA, it could be a deliberate, semi-permanent sink into oblivion. What kind of thanks is that?

On the clean sidewalks and the recreation center playgrounds, where children hustle, try to learn the pick-and-roll, and play on hoops where the rims are tied on too tight by an old man who knows a long winter is coming and if the hoop isn’t on straight and tight, it won’t make it past the wind and the wet, and the rust will squeeze its way inside of the screws holding it straight. A ball is passed the ball to the corner, and wearing those worn #34 and #20 and #5 jerseys, they're thankful too in a way that salary cap savings can never express. The bright orange hide clanges from the edge of the rim, caught on the weak side, and then they run again.

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Who Cares About Value?

One of the easiest ways to con someone is to appeal to their vanity. A good confidence man seems like they’re more intelligent, that they understand more about the system than anyone else, and makes the mark believe in what they’re selling. They can separate the mark from everyone else on account of their specialized insight, then separate them from their money.

The three-way trade that sent Rudy Gay to Toronto at first seemed relatively bad for Memphis, in that it seemed to be going the opposite direction of their trade just the previous week with the Cleveland Cavaliers. In that deal, they traded future first round pick for salary cap space to keep their franchise players, but in the next they traded a large component of their current team for more salary cap space and a second round pick. It isn’t hard to see through the press coverage of the trade to see just what kind of con the new Memphis ownership is pulling on their fans. It isn’t a new trick – Phoenix’s ownership and management pulled it for years, sinking their once-exciting team. Sacramento has done it too. They’re using our own vanity to sell us the future as a real thing.

"We are excited to add three players who bring with them a tremendous amount of value to our team and have achieved incredible success on the pro, college and Olympic levels," general manager Chris Wallace remarked in a Grizzlies press conference, under the glowing lights of earnest speech, codifying his communication to hide the team’s real long-term goals.

Translating that, the figurehead told the press, “Since modern technology has forced us to acknowledge that you know as much as we do in terms of salary justifications and statistical analytics, anybody can see how valuable flexibility is, and how transparent this trade is. We all know Gay is really paid a lot of money, has limited future potential, whereas a cheaper Ed Davis has some potential, and now we have all this elasticity with the salary cap. You know, and are silent.”

Thanks to the new sports media, fans are now also buying this narrative, and accepting the meta-game of “inside basketball” as part of the story. 

Consider how long the Phoenix Suns did it, trading down picks and good players to stay “flexible,” to put the pieces around Steve Nash to win, sending star players all over the league. Eventually, they dumped Nash himself for the “flexibility” to rebuild. No one in the Phoenix management actually thought Michael Beasley is going to turn it around, but they just know how much his salary is worth, and can smile.

In this case, people ignorant of the increasingly stingy purses of NBA owners may be right in rejecting what’s presented in front of them. The con of “quality/value” can only work for so long. Has anybody ever seen a highlight reel demonstrating salary cap space? A retired jersey hanging in the rafters for a season having avoided luxury tax? Does anybody other than Daryl Morey and his acolytes want to see underpaid players more than people worthy of being stars?

Morey’s game, and this con, is part of the problem in that his ilk has convinced many, many intelligent people that financial value actually matters much in something where it’s less than primary: watchable competition. Smart people don’t look at All Star votes or commercial endorsements, they find it value in offensive win shares, points per 100 possessions, and true rebounding possession. Management and ownership then uses that information to exploit whoever fits best financially. 

While the best teams can find contributions from well-paid role players like Jason Terry or Mario Chalmers, or even good minutes off late draft round picks like Norris Cole, it is the expected well-paid stars, LeBron or Dirk Nowitzki or Derrick Rose, that matter the most.

Value is great in all kinds of things, but in pure competition, it does not matter much at all. We award the presidency to whoever gets the most Electoral College votes, not who got the most voters per dollar. Analytics work for forecasting an election, but aren’t quite there for monetizing the voters themselves. If you’re going to drive it every day, a Corvette is a better value sports car than a Bugatti Veyron, but that same Bugatti is still faster on the track. In basketball, an overpaid Josh Smith is going to put more basketballs through a hoop than an underpaid Jeff Green [editor’s note: Jeff Green will never be underpaid].

Basketball isn’t about saving their ownership money, it remains a sport about winning. This trade does not help the Grizzlies win, short-term or long-term. They simply dumped salary and said they gained “value” or “flexibility.” Over the course of two trades, they went from having a first round pick to a second round pick and from having a legitimate starter and a bench to an aging Piston and a “value” backup for the only positions they have filled with franchise players.

What other business could tell their customers that they’re making their current product worse for the purpose of keeping flexibility to maybe make a better product in the future? Which other sports’ owners could get away with telling the fans that even if the team is worse, to root for them because the ownership is making more money? This is a disappointing way of doing business, for the casual fans, and a con to anybody paying attention.

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