To the NBA junkie, almost every team inspires some mix of excitement and curiosity as a new season approaches. One team executive recently compared the first wave of regular-season games to unwrapping gifts on Christmas morning: How will the coach fit New Player X into his team's rotation? How will Player Y and Player Z mesh on the floor? Even the bad teams are exciting: How experimental will Brett Brown be in Philly after years of stodgy Doug Collins offensive philosophy? Who will win the race to lead the league in turnovers between Michael Carter-Williams and Trey Burke? (Advantage MCW after Burke broke his finger over the weekend.)
But the Knicks, the wackiest bunch of wackadoos in the league, are starting to conjure an unnerving anxiety. That's a strange thing to say about a 54-win team coming off its best season in years, having puked up draft picks for a starry name in Andrea Bargnani and shrewdly inked bargain deals for Beno Udrih and Metta World Peace.
In case you haven't been following the Drew League the past few weeks — and really, what else could you have been doing? — the Money Gang is the Drew League superteam assembled by rapper The Game, and all summer long they've been dominating. But the playoffs began this weekend, and the Money Gang didn't even last through the first round. And we have highlights.
The New York Knicks, generally speaking, have a certain stylistic method to their player acquisitions. It’s something like equal parts money, mothballs, and nostalgia. Splashy names like Penny Hardaway, Tracy McGrady, Jason Kidd, Kiki Vandeweghe, Xavier McDaniel, and Rolando Blackman all sounded pretty good as long as you didn’t happen to notice what the current Gregorian year was. This is nothing new. The Knicks tried to lure a 40-year-old Wilt Chamberlain out of his surely sexy-time-laden retirement in 1975, because, hey, it’s WILT CHAMBERLAIN AND HE SCORED 100 (on us, 13 years ago)!!! It’s like New York GMs throughout history have been picking players as if flipping through a bin of greatest-hits records. “Ooooh, Penny Hardaway! I loved those commercials! A little scuffing around the jacket and the sleeve is missing, but it might still play.”
So here we are, digging in the crates yet again, when, say — what do we have here? A Metta World Peace, née Ron Artest, released on Tru Warier Records in 1999. And, dude, this is my JAM. Concrete jungle where dreams are made of, y’all!
The Knicks are the greatest. You know this. Did you see they signed J.R. Smith to a four-year deal last week, then found out that he's got ligament damage and is out for the next four months? Every time you think the Knicks have out-Knicksed themselves with something like the Andrea Bargnani trade, they go out and up the ante.
And, hey, good news! The most surreal team in the NBA just signed the most surreal player in the NBA, and now Metta World Peace is going to be in New York City. Putting Metta anywhere in America would be fun — Utah! — but in New York City, the possibilities are truly endless. To help start the brainstorming process, we came up with handful of ideas for Mr. World Peace during the next two years.
Metta, if you're reading, just know that we're dead serious about all this.
In case you were busy getting up close and personal with nature, really getting in there, getting deep, all the way into nature, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Oakland slugger Yoenis Cespedes blasted his way to the Home Run Derby championship, easily outpacing Bryce Harper to take home the title. Cespedes will now be forced to perform his duties as Mr. American Home Run Man for the next 12 months, touring the nation to speak at trade shows, conventions, and store openings about the virtues of hitting home runs. He will get to wear his crown and sash for the duration of his reign, an honor that former winners have called "way worse than just being a professional baseball player" and "a nightmare, you can't even appear in the ESPN Body Issue lest you tarnish the sash."
Alex Rodriguez hit his first professional home run since September as he continues his rehabilitation with the Double-A Trenton Thunder. "Call me James Harden, cause I'm on the Thunder," Rodriguez said after the game. When told that Harden was no longer on the Thunder, Rodriguez quickly added, "that's what I meant." When asked what that meant, Rodriguez said, "You know. You know. That. Just. I know all about basketball. I have friends who play basketball. I'm Alex Rodriguez. And also James Harden. Shut up."
The Lakers finally amnestied Metta World Peace yesterday — he's either going to Shanghai or the Knicks or the NHL — and if nothing else, it's a good excuse to remember one of the greatest press conferences of all time. From start to finish, it's all so perfect.
In case you were out enjoying a theatrical production of Moby-Dick in Space, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter returned from the DL in New York's 8-4 win over Kansas City, but his return might prove short-lived as he was forced to leave the game early with a quad injury. "Don't say a word," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman yelled to a backhoe parked outside of Yankee Stadium as he awaited the results of Jeter's MRI. "Do you think you're a big man, sitting there, laughing at me? Laughing at us? Laughing at the goddamned Yankees way? Do you? A big man, huh. A big ol' snorting man. Are you even a man? What do you got under the hood there? Boy parts or girl? And don't tell me gender's a fucking construct. I know what fucking constructs are. I built this ramshackle piece of shit team; I know what constructs are." Cashman then angrily threw the lobster bib he was wearing as a shirt to the ground. "You're a fucking machine, man. That's what you are. You didn't give birth to me. You don't get to tell me what to do. Unless " Cashman then paused, asking, "Mom? Are you my mother?"
Matt Moore struck out 10 for the Tampa Bay Rays en route to his 13th win in a 4-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins. "Playing the Twins is never easy for me," Moore explained after the game, "ever since I stayed with my parents at this hotel in Colorado as a kid. We were supposed to take care of the place through the winter, but then things got weird. There were these two girls that were always asking me to come play with them. I guess that isn't that weird, but it gave me the willies. I mean, why weren't they in school? Come to think of it, why wasn't I in school? My parents really dropped the ball on that one."
As ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reminded us this week, the league is running out of players eligible for the amnesty provision — that sexy and often misunderstood minx in the new collective bargaining agreement that allows teams to guillotine one player from their cap sheet. Teams were/are allowed only one bite at the amnesty apple over the length of this CBA. Use it on Charlie Bell’s expiring $4.1 million deal and you’re scrambling to offload $20 million in dead money to gain cap flexibility for Andre Iguodala or Dwight Howard. Pull the amnesty trigger on Chauncey Billups to slip Tyson Chandler into space, and you’re stuck with Amar’e Stoudemire, forever and ever, amen.
Teams can use the amnesty only on players working under contracts signed before the lockout, and only when said players are still on the same team they were on when the lockout started; players traded since then are not eligible for that sweet, sweet amnesty relief. Teams must still pay the players their amnesty.
From time to time, the writers of Grantland will use this space to unpack a new sports book. Most of these books will be bad.
Last month, Metta World Peace announced the release of his first book, Metta’s Bedtime Stories, and my first instinct was to take out a credit card. I thought this would be the common reaction, but judging from the lack of reviews on the Internet, I guess not. The book has been out for about three weeks and there still aren’t any Amazon customer reviews. How is that possible? I’m not willing to believe that I’m the only soul on this planet remotely interested in Ron Artest’s contribution to the literary canon.
But if I am, so be it. Here’s your ultimate (and only) guide to Metta’s Bedtime Stories.
Whomever Metta consulted in the making of this book knew at least one thing about the children’s book game. A mark of a good children’s book is a memorable cover. The cover of Metta’s Bedtime Stories is very memorable, mostly frightening. It's simple enough: Metta sits in a chair with a few books on his lap and an iridescent basketball by his feet. But the devil is in the details, which is a way of saying I think the devil lives inside Book Cover Metta’s outsize eye sockets. The eyes are so big, so unavoidable that you’re pulled into eye contact. Book Cover Metta’s eyes are drawn downward, and I understand this is probably meant to suggest the act of reading to imaginary kids sitting around him, but when you’re looking at it at eye level, it’s clear he’s not looking at you. He’s looking inside you. And it’s so thoroughly creepy, you’re more or less compelled to start reading the book if only for a brief respite from the soul probing.
In the 71st game of your 17th season, in the midst of a “heated” playoff “race,” why are you still watching your own errant jump shot while your mark, Klay Thompson, beats you back in transition for an open 3-pointer? Thompson doesn’t exactly take off like Corey Brewer, either, and he still beats you down the floor by several steps.
Why is this still happening? It’s almost April, and Bryant and the Lakers still can’t figure out transition defense, or defense in general.
In an interview Wednesday with ESPN's Jackie MacMullan, Kobe Bryant made a few comments about his large-shouldered teammate, Dwight Howard.
"We don't have time for [Howard's shoulder] to heal."
"We need some urgency."
"[Dwight] has never been in a position where someone is driving him as hard as I am, as hard as this organization is."
"It's win a championship or everything is a complete failure. That's just how we do it. And that's foreign to him."
"Dwight worries too much about what people think."
"I told him, 'You can't worry about that. It's holding you back."
"He just wants people to like him. He doesn't want to let anyone down, and that gets him away from what he should be doing."
"Take his free throw shooting. It's all mental with him. Like in practice. He's shooting without a care and he hits 10 in a row. But then we get in a game and everyone is looking at him and there's all these expectations, and he starts worrying about what people are thinking, what people will say."
Let’s not mince words here — the Lakers are boring. Sure, they’re a flaming train wreck from which we can’t avert our eyes, but their actual on-court product (and even some of the drama off it) is far from enjoyable, in the traditional sense. If you stripped away the star power and franchise mystique, all you’d be left with is a basketball team that’s losing far more than it wins, and there’s not much fun about that. (Again, in the traditional sense.)
But given there isn’t any way to not talk about the Lakers, I went to the ESPN Trade Machine (at least in part) and tried to figure out a deal that, in an alternate reality, would make the team more palatable. The trade I came up with is both realistic (based on some real rumors I’ve heard/read and players’ fair market value in mind) and totally effing bananas (five-team, 15-player trades and unicorns tend have a lot in common). I’d still like to think at least some parts dabble in the vicinity of the plausible.
In the end, I came up with a Lakers team (as well as a Cleveland one) that I would actually enjoy watching on a nightly basis. Of course, it’s built along the lines of my own personal views — fit over star power and great offense over any type of defense — but I think it would make the struggling L.A. team, as well as a couple of the others involved, more interesting.
Either way, there’s enough in there to get people yelling at each other (or at me), which is easily the best part of fake trades anyway. So here ya go:
It’s a refrain we’re hearing now from Mike D’Antoni’s harshest critics: The Lakers are banged up, yes, but any team with Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant should be better than 9-13. Even worse, they're 4-8 since D’Antoni took over on the bench.