Denver, the Riveting Hydra

I don’t know if this has hit critical mass yet, like the official word from the internet or whatever, but if the Miami Heat are the team that everybody seems to enjoy watch losing (see: their last three games; in particular, the epic blown lead of Thursday’s Orlando game and Chris Bosh’s ball-smashing temper tantrum, then Friday’s face-melting defeat to the league’s best team), then the Denver Nuggets are their very distinct inverse: an unexpected, deep-rotation motherfucker of a squad, playing fast, organized ruckus, led by Kenyon Martin despite the odds, featuring an injured Gallinari (out two weeks to let requisite neck tat jokes heal completely), Wilson “Looks More Natural in a Nuggets Jersey and You Know It” Chandler, and revitalized sundries who have survived the solar flares caused by Carmelo flaming out into the abyss of America’s largest media market.
If you’re a sportswriter and you still think this trade didn’t work out for everybody (especially the Nuggets), you’re blind to the truth, still living in the rational world that no longer exists. As for New York, I could definitely see a first round exit in their future if they have to play Orlando or Chicago in the quarterfinals. On the other hand, the Nuggets are playing against the rules of self-interest and ego. But I digress back into my previous point; the playoffs are far enough away to not need to fantasize about match-ups yet.
The Nuggets, however, are an ill vision of the future come to present, of a team with so many qualified dudes that when a competitor (Shawn Marion, for example) lops one off with the swing of a broadsword, three fully-formed heads pop up in its place and then produce 1. a lob pass leading into a dunk 2. an opponent’s turnover, leading into a break-driven three-pointer. They succeed in almost every way that their deep-rotation counterparts in the Eastern Conference, the Pistons, fail disastrously at; their motions are fluid, their bodies are strong, fast and capable, and their coach is a remarkable being of consistency and perseverance.
A little more on the Pistons and this analogy of inversions: in previous writings, I have been exceedingly critical of the Pistons and their coach (who I still believe is kind of terrible, even though now I feel equally empathetic). Although I initially supported the recent blowup and subsequent workers’ strike of some of their veteran players regarding this dummy’s style or attitude or whatever (workers unite, etc.), the more I considered their perspective, the more I realized how babyish and disappointing they ultimately were. Even if they believed more in their own talent than their coach's abilities, this was a weird way of dealing with it. I realized the problem with the Pistons wasn’t the “rotational clusterfuck” causing all of these dummies to get jealous of Greg Monroe's playing time, but the rebuilding chasm the team still does not allow themselves to get over with. The fault is more systematic than anything else.
Much more importantly, a "bad coach" like Kuester was trying to accomplish in Detroit what George Karl did when his front office traded Carmelo Anthony, but unlike Pistons management's inability to trade the old guard that had declined into ruin (but without giving away their swag from the now-ancient title season), slashing away at the skull of the Nuggets’ Hydra allowed it to sprout a thousand heads who don’t need the ball in their hands for thirty shot attempts per game and forty minutes a game. So far, this is better. They keep winning games, and if they win against the Clippers tonight, that will be one more statement.
There is parity amongst the players on the Nuggets that I don’t know I’ve ever seen before. I believe any of them – even guys like Gary Forbes who haven’t really played since the trade, or goofs like Kenyon who have assumed a senior leadership role – all have the kind of potential to win for this team. Despite their fuckups, any of them could be starters. They could attack in waves, similar to European warfare before the advent of machine guns and airplanes. The word "starter" doesn't even seem to mean the same thing on this team anymore. Whether or not Denver will allow themselves to envelope themselves in their socialistic destiny is up to the players, Karl and management. Either way, in this limited trial period, it has led the Nuggets to unquestionably become the most riveting team in the entire league.
Negative Dunkalectics co-founder Chris Sampson can be found on Twitter, as well as his occasionally updated but completely weird podcast, and also loving both the Celtics and the Denver Nuggets.
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Number 12 Looks Just Like You: Tales From The End Of The Bench

One of the more enjoyable aspects of following NBA players on Twitter is that they are often discussing their favorite movies. For example, Kevin Durant recently had some cinephiles questioning his taste when he mentioned that the Pierce Brosnan volcano epic Dante's Peak was one of his favorite films. Blue Chips is also a popular one among players, as most probably saw it in their formative years and are nostalgic for the days when Penny Hardaway was a better NBA player than actor. Andy Rautins recently tweeted that he was watching the 1993 college hoops drama, calling it a "classic".

I thought this was particularly interesting because Andy reminds me of a little known player who had a cameo in the film, Eric Anderson. Eric played for his alma mater, Indiana, in Blue Chips, but Knicks fans will remember him as the 12th man during their Eastern Conference championship run in 1994. Like Andy, Eric's playing time was sparse, but he was a fan favorite, and had a memorable quote after a game against the LA Clippers, commenting on a shoving match between him and reserve Harold Ellis:

"He was going crazy...I've never been involved in anything like that. I just got in the game. I'm a good guy. I have no idea why it happened.

Yes Eric, you were truly the Del Griffith of the NBA

Few things liven up a blow out more than scrub on scrub violence. With that in mind, here are some other notable garbage time players throughout NBA history.

Jo Jo English

The Bulls journeyman made his name when he was used as an enforcer against Derek Harper in the 1994 Eastern Semifinals. Jordan-less for the first time in 10 years, the Dirty Bulls pulled out all the stops and English ended up in a bench clearing brawl with Knicks starting point guard Derek Harper, right in front of the Commish. Since the NBA is Stalinist about its history of violence, no Youtube currently exists of this memorable brawl, so I'll let Derek himself sum up the moment:

People know who to fuck with and who not to fuck with. People aren’t crazy. You remember what happened before that brawl that took place in Detroit. Now Ron Artest is my boy and I love him as a player, but what did he do when he saw Ben Wallace coming at him? He stepped back and stretched out on the scorers table. People play crazy, but really aren’t crazy. And out of all people, Jo-Jo English? Please……

Dwayne Schintzius

The 7 foot Floridian fit right at home with a bad boy Nets team that also featured Derrick Coleman, Kenny Anderson, Rick Mahorn, and Jayson Williams. Dwayne was perhaps most notable for his college career, where he was a legendary malcontent. While at the University of Florida, he allegedly assaulted a person and a car with a tennis racket outside of a Gainesville nightclub. In his first game back from suspension, Florida was down by 2 with 2 seconds left and had just turned the ball over. With hope for the Gators being just about lost, a Vanderbilt fan threw a tennis ball onto the court, resulting in a technical foul, and Schintzius hit both free throws, sending the game into overtime and an eventual Florida win. Schintzius would eventually clean up his act and cooperate with authorities when he testified in court against Jayson Williams that he once witnessed Williams killing his own dog with a shotgun.

Keith Closs

The 7'3" Clippers back up was a beast in college, averaging 5.9 blocks a game at Central Connecticut State. Unfortunately, his NBA career lasted only 3 years, never fully realizing his Mark Eaton-esque potential. Things got sadder for Closs, as a history of alcoholism lead to 3 DUIs, a video of him getting beaten down outside a club was posted on, and undoubtedly his low point: he was spotted at a nightclub in Nanjing, China wearing a customized Keith Closs Dallas Mavericks jersey, a team he never played for! A truly bizarre coda to an already strange NBA life.

Ruben Boumtje Boumtje

The Georgetown product never played enough to get into any fights, but I'm sure he would have loved to take a shot at former teammate Rasheed Wallace. After a Blazers practice one morning, Sheed and fellow headcase Bonzi Wells spotted Ruben shooting jump shots with his back turned to them. Sheed, smelling blood, slapped Bonzi on the back and said "Watch this." He picked up a ball and threw a high hard one right at Boumtje Boumtje's head, leaving him writhing on the floor. Sheed's reaction? Guilt? Empathy? No, apparently he and Wells started cracking up. There will truly never be anything quite like the Jail Blazers era.

Mardy Collins

Hand picked by Isiah Thomas, the Knicks were hoping Mardy Collins' size and strength would help sure up their point guard position. Unfortunately, he had a sub-Rondo jump shot and ended up riding the pine for the Knicks before ending his career in Clippers obscurity. He did have an instigating part in one of the bigger brawls of the last 10 years. Collins committed a hard foul on JR Smith during garbage time of a Knicks-Nuggets game, leading to a heated confrontation and a famous sucker punch by Carmelo Anthony. Jared Jeffries tried to hit Anthony back to no avail, as Carmelo fled the scene. It looks like JJ will finally get his chance when he makes his return to the Knicks this month.

Dun dun dun!

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When Signing a Buyout is a Waste of Team Hunger

Over the weekend, I saw a bulletin on the television that changed my life. It was during the Thunder / Lakers game, so eloquently narrated by Mike Breen from Oklahoma City, framing every weak side rebound of Serge Ibaka’s like it was an exhibit of Mark Bradford’s, peeling away our notions of what is possible, unique in American art today, a critical pastiche of hand-grasping-leather-grasping-soul. Focused in a tight frame, the beaming young woman in this bulletin declared that Truth had been found.
That truth was that Taco Bell was selling the Crunchwrap Supreme for 88 cents this week.
To quote the two-time BAFTA award-winning performer Cate Blanchett, “That’s gross.” But more acutely, I have a dark secret and that is my former life’s undying love of Crunchwrap Supreme. In my youth, I endeavored to the next town over every few weeks and became captivated by the alluring flavor, the smoky, brittle texture and aroma of one of Yum! Brands' signature dishes. I became nothing less than its slave. Fortunately, times have changed and now I can eat better than garbage. Despite the appeal of ordering one with no sour cream add Baja sauce, I can take no solace in what was my existence in these lost years.
Similar to my old life, the Atlanta Hawks and Indiana Pacers used to enjoy the signature flavors of Mike Bibby and Troy Murphy. But in what could be described in nothing less than a curse, these gifted individuals lost the zest, the unique deniability that made their performances such a fan’s gift for years. Murphy, hobbled beyond his youth by magnificent hair and an ability to spread the floor, was sent to New Jersey in the off-season, then Oakland last week. In Atlanta, Bibby always kind of aggressively sucked and was sent to Washington to suffer the gruesome fate of playing behind John Wall and definitely having May and June off.
One must beg the question, on the subject of both Murphy/Bibby and Crunchwrap Supreme: why did we enjoy such hollow pleasurable experiences to begin with?
Troy Murphy was a “double-double machine” in his halcyon days, but now he seems washed up, maybe without redemption. On a team like this year's Celtics, he won’t garner as many minutes as he probably desires at age 30 – and he has clearly struggled with a reserve role with the Nets this season to the tune of 34% shooting. It’s not like the Nets have the same caliber of talent, but if Avery Johnson believed in Murphy’s ability when he was coaching him, he probably would’ve given him more playing time than Fouls League champ Derrick Favors.
On the other hand, Bibby is the very definition of depraved: his four-year vacation in Georgia, with a concentration on his last two years of steady decline, was a Caligulean marvel of contract over talent. The hubs of Delta Airlines, Al Horford and Josh Smith deserved a reprieve this spring, in the form of Bibby suffering in a backup position on a lottery team while the formidable extremities of Atlanta sprinted towards a playoff run.
So when the Heat and Celtics battle for the gifts of these sorrowed men, what can we imagine as the negotiations between general managers go down and the playing begins? Imagine the crowds at Taco Bell this week, with a seemingly-elite item being provided as a loss-leader at a hell of a price. Imagine the waste of time everybody will be fighting for, for this limited time only! Imagine the hands of a person behind the counter of a chain restaurant making a Crunchwrap Supreme… forever.
Negative Dunkalectics co-founder Chris Sampson can be found on Twitter, as well as his occasionally updated but completely weird podcast, and also appreciating the deals on fresh produce at his neighborhood grocery store.
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A Tale of Two Tylers: Odd Future, the NBA Age Limit, and the Business of Buzz

Kill people, burn shit, fuck school – Odd Future

What do Tyler Haley and Jeremy Tyler have in common? They were both were born in 1991, they both grew up in Southern California, they both dropped out of school to pursue their dreams, and they both are hoping to blow up in 2011.

Jeremy Tyler was a much-talked-about high school phenom who, in 2009, dropped out of school after his sophomore year to play professional ball in Israel while he waited to turn 19 and become eligible for the NBA draft. At the time he was roundly criticized for his decision. Writers and fans reacted with shock and horror that a teenager would leave high school to take a job making $140,000 a year. Over the past two years he has vindicated his haters by not only performing poorly on the court in Israel, but also earning a reputation as an immature, spoiled, ego maniacal asshole. He quit the team with five weeks left in the season and moved back to the U.S., only to take a new job with the Tokyo Apache team in Japan. He is eligible for the 2011 draft.

Tyler Haley is better known as Tyler the Creator, the most recognizable member of the hip-hop collective Odd Future. He raps about rape, the devil, suicide, skateboarding, and generally has a narcissistic and nihilistic worldview. He is intelligent beyond his 19 years but goes to great lengths to play it down and celebrate the lowbrow and appear dumb and careless. He is mean but at the same time hilarious and goofy. He is immature, idiotic, and full of raw energy. In a word, he’s a teenager. But his group Odd Future has been steadily growing in popularity, hitting a new crescendo in the last month as the video for his song Yonkers was tweeted by Kanye West and the group scored a performance on Jimmy Fallon and a record deal with XL. Tyler dropped out of juco to pursue OF full time.

Between the draft classes of 1995 and 2000, there were ten players drafted to the NBA straight out of high school. Stars like Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, and Tracy McGrady were all among those ten. Between 2001 and 2005, that number almost tripled. This group included Amar’e Stoudamire and Lebron James, but also included Kwame Brown and Sebastian Telfair, and a lot of guys you've never even heard of. In fact, in the 2001 draft when Kwame Brown went number one, high schoolers Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry both were picked in the top 5 ahead of players like Pau Gasol, Tony Parker, Gilbert Arenas, and Shane Battier.

In 2006 the NBA had had enough. The league changed the rules so that players would not be eligible for the draft until they turned 19. The league (and the NCAA) had hoped this rule change would force players to attend college, even if for only one year. But they also thought it would protect teams from making stupid draft picks and give them a chance to see a player in college-level competition before pulling the trigger on them. The frenzy over drafting high school players had become too much, and the consequence was that teams wasted draft picks on immature, unprepared future washouts in the hopes that they would discover the next Kobe Bryant.

The league changed the rule to protect the teams from their own over-zealousness and bad judgement, meanwhile punishing those high school students who had a real chance at success in professional basketball. But like with most things involving the NBA, there was little concern for what was best for the players. The emphasis is always on what is best for business. There’s plenty of lip service, however, paid to the good and welfare of these high school prospects. The NBA crows about how matriculation to college (or the NBA’s D-League) is better for these kids in the long run. Despite their words, their actions prove over and over again that the league sees the players as children that need to be controlled and patronized to.

You may argue that the league is right, the players are children that need to be scolded, grounded, punished for their misbehavior. You’d certainly have ample evidence to back up your claims. But the fact is that the player has one job to do, play basketball. The team has one job to do, put together a team that wins (and/or sells lots of tickets). Everything else is just adults trying to use their power to regulate the behavior and control the lives of other adults. Sure, some of these adults are only 18 years old. But if its old enough for Uncle Sam to send them to war, then by God its old enough for them to take whatever job out of high school they so choose, be it fry cook or shooting guard.

Tyler the Creator has had quite a year. By his own admission it has been a roller coaster. Discovered by the hive mind on the internet, the buzz around Odd Future grew like a swarm. OF suddenly find themselves being called “the vanguard of modern hip-hop” by Pitchfork and getting followed around by MTV. The question is, are Odd Future going to be Kobe Bryant or Kwame Brown?

When Tyler gets asked about all the new fans by his self-proclaimed “OG fans,” he is quick to chastise them. “You’re not a real fan, a real fan would be happy for us.” Check out this exchange from Tyler's Formspring page:
Q: Do these total dickriders not piss you off, dude?
A [Tyler]: nope, people like you who complain about 'dickriders' piss me off, to be real. they're just excited fans man, let them enjoy that shit and stop trying to be so fucking cool

One could almost pity Tyler after reading this comment. He’s totally right to accuse this fan of trying to be so fucking cool. But if he has little patience or sympathy for the type of fan who relishes in being among the few who know about something great and unappreciated, he will truly hate the swarm that is currently gathering around him. His new Pitchfork-reading, Kanye-twitter-following fans are just as anxious NOT to be in on a totally great secret. Like a horde of NBA scouts eating frito pies at high school basketball games, they are desperate to be in on the ground floor of The Next Big Thing.

Jeremy Tyler once wanted to go to college. He verbally committed to Rick Pitino to attend Louisville when he graduated high school. But he got impatient. He told the New York Times he found high school “boring” and the level of competition unchallenging. He met Sonny Vaccaro, sworn enemy of the NCAA, who probably convinced Tyler that the NCAA would profit off of his labor while he earned nothing more than the chance to attend more boring classes on his way to the NBA draft. He watched Brandon Jennings opt out of doing a “one and done” year in the NCAA and head to Europe to play professionally while he waited to turn 19. His management team decided that Tyler would best be served by playing against professional competition while he waited to become eligible for the draft.

He and his family went from having the attention of the world of basketball to having the attention of the whole world. He was now the poster child for the story that professional basketball was robbing children of their innocence and educations in the pursuit of money. Again the paternalistic instinct kicked in. Jeremy Tyler received the kind of scrutiny for his decisions that is never laid upon the Justin Biebers and the Miley Cyrii of the world. As far as the American public was concerned, he was making an ill-informed mistake. He was being manipulated. He was just being greedy and chasing money rather than an education.

Unfortunately, Jeremy did himself little favors when he got to Israel. His much-older teammates (many of whom were also hoping to one day enter the NBA draft) and his coach didn’t warm to him. The one backer that was rooting for Jeremy in Israel was the team owner, Jeffrey Rosen, who was hoping Jeremy Tyler would be the trailblazer that led many more high school stars to his club to prepare for the draft. His coach suggested that if it wasn’t for Rosen, he would have cut the “out of shape” and “lazy” Tyler. Complaints about how loud he played his music and his attitude were reported on in the press. His swagger was unappreciated by Isreali fans and teammates. Even Vaccaro had second thoughts: “All he had to do was go do what Brandon [Jennings] did, shut up and go learn. He obviously isn’t doing that. He thinks that he’s Kevin Garnett.” Was this evidence that the NBA had a point? That there was some limit to how young a player could handle the jump to the pros?

Listening to Odd Future for the first time is a lot like what I imagine Jeremy Tyler’s coach in Israel must have felt like coaching him. On one hand, there is clearly raw talent and potential. On the other hand, the output is rough and immature to the point of being offensive. While Coach Ashkenazi probably resented that Jeffrey Rosen would expect him to treat Jeremy Tyler like an all-star, similarly one has to wonder why anyone would expect millions of more people to listen to the intentionally obnoxious and shocking lyrics of Odd Future.

Tyler the Creator says he wants to sell out. He can’t wait to blow up. He’s excited about getting huge. But, much like Jeremy Tyler, he likely has a rude awakening coming. There is a limited audience for he and the rest of OF’s brand of fun. Sure, you can point to Eminem or Insane Clown Posse, as examples of other obnoxious and shocking rappers who are successful. And much to Tyler’s chagrin, many critics have made those comparisons. But the truth is that those obnoxious, offensive rappers also happen to be white. The music industry is loyal only to what is marketable, just like the NBA. And the music industry takes its cues from a racist, paternalistic public, just like the NBA.

Does Odd Future deserve to blow up? Probably. Their music is undeniably good, even if the lyrics are so uniquely offensive and stupid. For now they are enjoying their moment, much like Jeremy Tyler did in 2009 when he shocked the world and dropped out of high school. Their real test awaits them. Can their music evolve to meet a larger audience? Will they become more self-conscious now that they are being asked to perform on television and to hang out with Mos Def and Justin Beiber? Or will they hang on to their teenage-skater-fuck-the-world swagger? The public had a hard time forgiving Kanye for upstaging Taylor Swift. One has to wonder how they will respond to whatever chaos Tyler the Creator and Odd Future have in store for us.

Jeremy Tyler will enter the NBA draft this year and will likely go in the second round. If he gets a roster spot, he’s likely going to get the league minimum. A lockout could push his draft off yet another year, leaving him stuck in Tokyo for even longer. His moment passed, he didn’t conform his attitude or his game, and the basketball hype machine is finished with him.

Should their be some version of the NBA’s age limit rule for hip hop? Do we need to let teenage Youtube sensations marinate a little longer in the underground before we plop them on Jimmy Fallon for the whole world to judge them?

There is certainly nothing wrong with allowing people to earn a living doing whatever they can. And there is no point in judging someone for choosing to pursue their dreams at any age they feel they are ready. But there does seem to be some cause for those of us in the public at large to remind ourselves that even the most talented kids are still kids, and that talent is not the same as skill. The onus is not on the kids for wanting fame and fortune before they are ready. The onus is on all of us so eager to find the Next Big Thing that we end up leading them on.

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