Amid the buzzer-beaters, heartbreak, and drama in the NCAA tournament, NBA teams are using college basketball’s biggest stage to fine-tune their evaluations of some of the league’s future stars. For someone like Ben McLemore of Kansas or Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State, a brilliant stretch in March will allow them to stake their claim as the no. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft. Regardless of where they are selected, both McLemore and Smart — should they declare — will move on from successful college programs to teams in the professional ranks that aren’t exactly synonymous with winning. During the past two seasons, no team has represented this perennial lottery dweller quite like the Charlotte Bobcats.
After a historically bad season that was partially obscured by a lockout-shortened schedule, the team has continued its futility again this year. In 11 of its past 13 games, Charlotte has been blown out by 14 or more points, an embarrassing stretch that has helped make the team owners of the league’s worst record. Or, in other words, things are going exactly as planned in Charlotte.
Welcome to life in the NBA, where every spring brings not only the excitement of the playoffs, but the unsavory notion of tanking. In a league that rewards losing and incompetence with valuable high draft picks, it pays to be bad. So with organizations like Charlotte, Orlando, and even Portland actively looking to avoid respectability, it’s time to restart the conversation about what tanking does to the competitive nature of the league.
In case you were busy settling up with Alamo Rent A Car after just driving, man, went horribly awry, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
The Los Angeles Lakers' troubled season continued, as forward Pau Gasol has been ruled out for at least six weeks after tearing his plantar fascia. Back in the Lakers' locker room, a frustrated Mike D'Antoni was confused by the diagnosis. "Oh, first Dwight is in and out of the lineup with undiagnosable shoulder pain, and now Pau tears a damn ribbon, and he won't play?" said D'Antoni, whose native tongue is Italian. "No, coach," interjected Lakers point guard Steve Nash, "I'm pretty sure fascia in English refers to the frieze of a building. Or like, the space around a column? His home must have suffered some cosmetic exterior damage, and that can be a real pain to deal with." D'Antoni countered, "Well, that's no reason to miss six weeks; with the amount he's paid, that's one week out tops." Metta World Peace then chimed in: "I don't mean to be a bother, but fascia can also mean 'bandage' in Latin. Perhaps we should give the Spaniard the benefit of the doubt and assume that he ripped a bandage, and then got one of those antibiotic-resistant infections." A dark hooded figure then emerged from the corner of the room, and bellowed, "Stai zitto!" A hush fell over the room until World Peace asked, "What's that mean, Kobe?" Bryant, deflated, responded, "It means 'shut up,' Ron. In Italian. Man, why'd you have to ruin my badass entrance. Whatever. All that matters is that Pau is feeling pain. Do we know whether or not he's feeling pain?" At this point Gasol himself got up from the trainer's table and said, "Uh, guys, I'm right here, and it's just a foot injury. I should be back in March." But his rational explanation came too late, as Kobe had already decided he was owed pain.
I'm having a hard time believing it's already February, gang. I know it's a bad weekend to complain, since the football fans of the world are just hours from hearing the last Super Bowl whistle and confronting the awful offseason, but I can feel March approaching, and it's happening too fast. Once it arrives, we'll all be too deep in the Madness to get nostalgic or fixate on the end, but the start of February is a dirty little reminder by whoever invented the calendar (Ben Franklin, probably) that college basketball is streaking past like UCLA on the break, even while winter plods on like the UVA offense. It's also a reminder that we've already failed to uphold our New Year's resolutions, and our lives are spiraling into failure and poverty. But as long as there's a game on, I can live with that.
Luckily, the shortest and supposedly most depressing month of the year is stocked with college basketball, and the first weekend kicks off with what might be the best regular season game of the season. Let's count it down.
In case you were out getting arrested while rehearsing your Les Misérables flash mob, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
The Chicago Bulls held the Atlanta Hawks to 20 first-half points en route to a 97-58 win in Chicago. It was the fewest points the Hawks had scored in a game since 1955, the year the shot clock was introduced, when they scored just 57 against the Boston Celtics. "I can't believe you clowns," joked Bulls coach and amateur insult comic Tom Thibodeau after the game. "One fewer basket, and we would've really stuck it to that old nincompoop Red Auerbach. He hasn't been had that bad since someone replaced one of his stogies with an exploding cigar. I guess you kidders will just have to win nine championships now to make it up to me. Am I right? Now which of you buffoons wants to get silly and see this ol' wisecracker work out some new material down at the Chuckle Bin?" There were no immediate takers, but Thibodeau thought he could get Kirk Hinrich to bite if he picked up the tab on the club's two-drink minimum.
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has been ruled out for the remainder of the postseason after reinjuring his broken arm in New England's game against Houston on Sunday. "I thought it was worth playing through it, and Coach thought playing was the right choice." Gronkowski said to the media. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick quickly interjected, "Thinks. Not thought. Coach thinks playing is the right choice."
When my wife read Friday's post, she asked me why I cared who was the beefiest or bulkiest player in the country. And I have to tell you guys I didn't have a good answer. Let's move on to this week's epiphanies and observations.
I spent about five hours on the highway this weekend, and before we get to the college basketball–related epiphanies for this week, I have three driving-related epiphanies:
1. In my mind, the worst breach of highway etiquette is when a driver in the left lane travels at the exact same (slow) speed as the driver in the right lane, clogging the highway and making it impossible for anyone to pass. It's selfish, stupid, and beyond infuriating. I used to deal with this problem by stewing in anger and shouting a few obscenities inside the safety of my car. Not effective. Eventually, I began tailgating in an effort to show that I hated the driver and would like to pass. More effective, but sometimes they'd become obstinate and refuse to move. But now, my evolution is complete, because I've reached a point in life where I just drive up, wait a few seconds to make sure I'm not being an impatient douche, and then hit the horn at reasonable intervals until they move. And the crazy part? It works, and I'm a lot less angry. I just sail by while the offender glowers at me from the slowpoke lane where he belongs. I'm pretty sure this new Zen-like approach contains the seeds of a great motivational book.
2. Things can get really, really odd when you're alone in a car. I once had a roommate in New York who told me he was looking forward to visiting his family in Kansas City for a holiday so he could "get in the car and just get weird." I knew exactly what he meant. And I'm not talking weird in any kind of perverse way. I'm talking, like, singing freestyle blues songs about highway signs. I'm talking about giving fake interviews in foreign accents. I'm talking about carrying on one-sided conversations with other drivers. Just letting the brain roam where it will, which is always some place bizarre. If there was a TV show that was just footage of people who thought they were alone in a car, it would be a smash hit. And if aliens ever considered invading, but that show was the only thing they watched ahead of time, they'd immediately cancel their plans, since we are clearly a planet of psychopaths.
3. If someone is exhibiting "dickish" behavior on the road, there is a 95 percent chance that he will be driving a pickup truck. Pickup trucks are the new 18-wheelers, and 18-wheelers are the new sports cars. I know a lot of good people who own pickup trucks, including my father, so please don't think I'm stereotyping. This is just a scientific conclusion culled from years of observation; among the thriving group of respectable pickup truckers, there is a group of renegade road terrorists. And if you bike? God help you, because then it goes up to 100 percent. Pickup truck people hate bikers and love to buzz them or scream out the window as they pass. Someday, I'm going to bike past a pickup trucker stopped for speeding, and I'm going to get my revenge by mocking them on the fly. And on that day, the driver will probably be my father. Sorry, Dad.
On to the hoops! Here's what we learned from the past week: