Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Week That Was: Jan 16-22, 2012

Editor's Note: Until I come up with a cute title for this feature, we'll just call this "The Week That Was" -- three pieces of NBA knowledge that caught my eye and played a role in the way I watched and wrote about the Association this week.

On tap for this week: pay raises, the 1985-1986 Celtics, and the NBA's take on the Civil Rights era.  Let's get to it.

1. A UCLA Degree (Or, some Coursework) Will Get You Far In Life.

Payday has come for two stalwarts from the much-heralded 2008 draft class.  Eric Freeman of Y!'s NBA blog Ball Don't Lie reports that forward Kevin Love is on his way towards receiving a maximum offer sheet from the Timberwolves that ranges between four years, $61 million and five years, $78 million.  Meanwhile, Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman reports that all-star point guard Russell Westbrook is prepared to sign his name on a five year, $80 million dollar extension to remain in Oklahoma City with Kevin Durant for the foreseeable future.  These two players join Derrick Rose in the 2008 Max Contract club, with other 2008 draftees like Roy Hibbert, Ryan Anderson, and Danillo Gallinari also due considerable raises within the next few weeks.

With Westbrook joining Durant and Kendrick Perkins as OKC's "designated" players (the ones getting the biggest paychecks), decision time has come for Sam Presti and his universally praised front office. Serge Ibaka, a burgeoning post defender with crazy hops, is a free agent this season, as is 3-point specialist Daequan Cook.  More importantly, do-it-all combo guard James Harden, the prohibitive sixth man of the year, is due for a considerable pay raise after the 2012-2013 season.  All of these guys are integral pieces for the Thunder's present success, but it seems unlikely that they'll all be around for the future.  It will be interesting to see which players Presti keeps, and which ones are swapped for different assets.

2. How 'Bout Them Rockets?

The hottest team in the NBA aren't the Thunder, or the Nuggets, or the Sixers, or even the Heat.  Nope, that distinction goes to the Houston Rockets, who have won five straight overall, and six out of their last seven.  At 8-7, they're the current tenth seed in the always competitive West, with potential for growth.  Their last five victories have come against some quasi-quality competition, including an overtime thriller against the New Orleans Hornets last night, which saw leading scorer Kevin Martin score 27 points in the first half.  Probably the biggest revelation of this surprising Rockets team has been the play of point guard Kyle Lowry, who is averaging 17 points and 9 assists under new head coach Kevin McHale.  Additionally, Samuel Dalembert, who had languished in Sacramento, is enjoying a renaissance, averaging 8 points and 8 rebounds a game with a remarkable player efficiency rating (PER) of 24, nearly nine points above the league average.

The Rockets' respectability is impressive because this is a team that ostensibly seems to be at the very beginning of a long, painful rebuilding operation.  With the mid-to-late 2000's dream of a potential dynasty based around the talents of former franchise players Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady now tragically and officially unrealized, and GM Daryl Morey's ill-fated attempt to acquire Pau Gasol and his sassy post game denied by David Stern, Kevin McHale presumably had nothing to work with this season.  Instead, he's done well with the pieces he had leftover from the Adelman administration, and gotten meaningful contributions from second round draft pick Chandler Parsons and current 2009 lottery bust Terrance Williams. Parsons had a nice week especially, with a crazy put back dunk on JaVale McGee that went viral.  Who said white boys can't jump?

Interestingly, McHale's early success as a coach continues a nice trend for the 1985-1986 Celtics, who have now had six former players spend time as head coaches in the NBA.  Larry Bird, Rick Carlisle, Sam Vincent, Danny Ainge, and Dennis Johnson all held the job.  I miss Kevin McHale on Inside the NBA, so part of me hopes that he tanks in Houston, so he can take his old job back from Shaq, and make Inside the NBA funny again.  But I'm sure McHale would like a second shot at NBA greatness after a fairly underwhelming run as GM of the Timberwolves, so we (or at least I) wish him the best.

3. Dr. MLK Jr Day is always a bit awkward.

For the third season in a row, the NBA has used the Martin Luther King Jr. public holiday as an informal Diet Christmas, when the NBA airs five games on the Turner and ESPN-ABC networks.  Instead of five games and a showcase game in Los Angeles, however, MLK Day only features two games, and a showcase game in Memphis, with the hometown Grizzlies playing the Chicago Bulls.

While Memphis was certainly the site of struggles related to Civil Rights in the 1960s, including the Memphis Sanitation Worker Strike, which brought Dr. King to the city, it is probably most famous for being the location where Dr. King was assassinated by CIA agent -- I mean, White extremist -- James Earl Ray on April 4, 1968, while he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel (pictured above.)

Two things seem problematic about this.  First, using Memphis, the site of King's death, as a celebration of his life, seems a bit shortsighted.  Secondly, the Dr. King that is memorialized, both by the NBA, and by the media and really, US history curriculum, was not the Dr. King that was beginning to organize in Memphis in April of 1968.  The King glorified on television throughout the day is a populist leader, seeking to bring reform through legislation.  The King that was killed in Memphis had started to radicalize, and had begun to formulate some sharply militant thoughts about the Vietnam War, and CIA action in parts of Africa and Asia.  The "Beyond Vietnam" speech, given the night before King was assassinated, lays out King's thoughts on Vietnam, and the United State's role in it.  Gone is the reformist rhetoric that has been glorified in King's iconic "I Have A Dream"speech, instead replaced by far more radical theories about operations of American imperialism, both domestic and abroad:
Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America's soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Vietnam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that America will be are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.

This is not the King that the NBA players awkwardly eulogize during commercial breaks.

If the NBA wanted to celebrate the "I Have A Dream" King, then the national showcase should be in Washington D.C.  Memphis, historically speaking, is not a good fit.


  1. I suppose the media wins if they can take a folk hero, like MLK, and play up the easy to digest parts of his philosophy, and pass over the more controversial bits. Besides, nuance seems to cause way too much cognitive dissonance in our culture.

    Anyway, who would have ever thought that the Rockets could go on this tear without playing Jonny Flynn 40+ minutes every night?

    1. Perhaps. Yet, I'm not sure that the NBA would have to be so nuanced to look objectively at King's life, and see that Memphis is a bad fit to eulogize King as a reformist, rather than King as a (budding) radical. I said Washington in my post, but hell, King was born in Atlanta, Georgia. Why not have the MLK Showcase Game in Atlanta, his birthplace, on his birthday? It seems bizarre.