The NBA Gets Back in the Picture

By: Dan Grant

Somehow, it’s November 20th already. I don’t know what the hell happened to September and October, but I can’t be the only one who feels like they were wiped off the calendar by some autumn-hating disciple of Chronos, can I? What’s that? I’ve lost you and I’m a dork? Noted!

Stolen time aside, there’s something fun about November. No, I’m not talking about the fact that every retail store is now decked out in the mandatory red and green, or that it’s too cold to leave the house without a jacket but too warm to wear that damn jacket during the day, so you’re hot, you’re cold, you’re never actually comfortable–

Let me start over.

November is great, because Oscar movies are coming out! That’s better.

This years Oscar race is still fresh, but there’s a slew of heavyweight directors entering the foray. Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, Danny Boyle, David O. Russell and Ridley Scott all have films either in theatres or coming out soon, all with designs on winning the grand daddy of them all: The Best Picture Academy Award. Our resident film geek expert Daniel Reynolds will be in the house with his take on these and others over the next few months.

oscarwinners

Who’ll take home the big prizes this year?

Much like with the Oscars, this year’s NBA season is as fresh and vibrant as a newborn baby cormorant. Yet, like with every season, there are familiar story lines re-emerging. The Spurs are flawless, the Bulls are flawed. The Clippers have questions; the Lakers suck. The Knicks are improving; the Nets are a dumpster fire. The East is top heavy, with an interesting middle ground; the West is a bloodbath of excellence and injuries.

Doesn’t it feel like we’ve seen this show before? I thought so, too! So much so, that just like eighteen(ish) months ago, I was reminded of the NBA-Academy Award corollary. For those that missed the last time, let me explain- by quoting myself:

I started to look for similarities between the situations of NBA franchises and movies: both feature big stars, intriguing plot-lines and the potential for both glory and disaster.

And it’s happened again. This season has given me the itch, and the only lotion that will soothe it is another NBA/Oscar hybrid column! As before, we’re looking at the situation (both on and off court, of course) of current NBA franchises, and figuring out what Best Picture winner they most resemble. I know, I know; it all seems a tad bit unnecessary, silly and potentially convoluted.

It is, after all, where amazing happens. You’re welcome.

Fire it up, Tesh!

The Honourable Mention

Los Angeles Lakers = The Hurt Locker

An ornery malcontent takes unnecessary risks and can’t adjust to life outside the high octane environment he’s become accustomed to. Sound familiar?

Doesn’t make the cut because Kobe hasn’t actually tried to adjust to civilian life yet. I think we’re all eager to see how the hell that’s going to go. Here’s an artists rendering of the first week:

thisisfine

Just a normal day for retired Kobe

San Antonio Spurs = The Godfather

I had a whole thing about Tim Duncan as Vito Corleone, Manu Ginobili as Sonny, Tony Parker as Tom Hagan and Kawhi Leonard coming in as Michael, the youngest, who then came to power. I even had a bit about Tiago Splitter being Fredo, sent off to a far away city to help Mike Budenholtzer implement the ‘Spurs Way’. I mean, he’s in Atlanta. Is there any doubt he’s banging cocktail waitresses two at a time? 

Ultimately though, it doesn’t work with these current Spurs. There’s no role for LaMarcus Aldridge or Pop, and there’s nobody hot-headed enough to truly pull off Sonny. Stephen Jackson, San Antonio misses you.

AP PACERS PISTONS BRAWL S BKN USA US

The Sonny Corleone of the NBA? Stay away from the tollbooth, Captain Jack!

The Nominees

Oklahoma City Thunder = A Beautiful Mind

Five years ago, Sam Presti was the most revered executive in the NBA. He hit gold on draft pick after draft pick, signed players to team friendly contracts, made astute trades and built a dynamic young team that made the NBA Finals with a core that seemed likely to stay in place for years. He could do no wrong. Then things began to unravel.

The Thunder are secretly the leagues weirdest team. They botched the James Harden trade and are now left with two superstars who say all the right things but don’t totally mesh on the floor. Both have dealt with major injuries and both are impending free agents; Kevin Durant this year and Russell Westbrook next year. They have a one dimensional max player who comes off the bench in Enes Kanter. They have Dion ‘Lid on the Basket’ Waiters. Their front office is often unnecessarily secretive in regards to casual matters, to the point that it’s puzzling. Much like the story of brilliant mathematician John Nash, this is a team that built itself up from nothing by following it’s own set of rules, reached the highest of heights, and then slowly descended into madness. Literally every move Presti has made in the past three years- the Harden, Kanter and Waiters trades especially- has been greeted with a collective ‘Huh. That’s weird’. It’s almost like he’s following advice from someone who doesn’t totally have his best interest at heart. Has anyone seen Paul Bettany?

russellbeautifulmind

Does this make sense to YOU guys?

Philadelphia 76ers = All Quiet on the Western Front

That’s right, we had to go back to 1930 to find a situation as depressing as the one in Philadelphia. All Quiet on the Western Front is regarded as one of the finest epic war films ever made, a depiction of the bleak day to day existence of soldiers during World War I. The main characters begin the film exuberant; they are inspired by an impassioned speech from Professor Kantorek (Sam Hinkie) about the good they will do, how the war effort is about ‘defending the Fatherland’ and will ultimately lead to their personal and national glory. This leads to many of the men (the poor 76ers fans), buying in and volunteering to join the war effort. However, as soon as they reach basic training, their illusions are smashed and they are told they will be ‘soldiers, and that’s all’. They are then sent into combat, ill-prepared for what awaits them.

The 76ers and their current model used to be a dichotomy; many hated the brashness of their strategy, but just as many stat heads and hoops nerds would tell you that their plan made sense, that you need superstars to succeed in the NBA and that they were going about acquiring one in the most risk-free way. By tanking season after season, they hoped to land one through the draft. The thing about the draft is that it happens every year; premium free agents are not always available and are almost certainly not willing to come to Philadelphia with the current roster in place. I think everyone gets it, whether they agree with it or not. Everyone understands that they’re after the big picture. But just like World War I, holy hell, is it depressing once you’re there and actually living through it. Even the fans who bought in originally have to be discouraged by a 37-127 record the past two seasons and an 0-12 start here in 2015-16. It just has to wear on you, Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel or not. And just like in the film, there’s no way you can totally appreciate the pure insanity of the situation unless you’re there firsthand. Sorry, Philly fans. We feel for you.

embiid

At this point, the feeling is mutual Joel!

Cleveland Cavaliers = Midnight Cowboy

Last time I wrote this column, I compared the Cavs to Kramer vs Kramer. LeBron hadn’t followed up ‘the Decision’ with ‘the Letter’ yet and I begged him not to tease the city of Cleveland with a return that he had no intention in following through on. He proved me wrong.

With that said, another similarity has begun to emerge. Like the famous story of Joe Buck, LeBron has packed his bags for the city and is trying to make good. He struggled when he first returned, seemingly at odds with teammates and coaches, just like Buck did upon his arrival in New York City. Both were seemingly saved when they made the acquaintance of a stranger with poor health, Kyrie Irving (Ratso Rizzo). Rizzo and Buck’s relationship, like LeBron and Kyrie’s, initially seemed to be ill-conceived. Things began to turn around for both; they bonded, forming a successful partnership and working towards their goals. For the Cavaliers that goal was the NBA title. For Joe Buck it was… well, have you seen the movie? I’ll just let you see the movie.

The key similarity is in the turning points. Buck and Rizzo begin to meet success, only to be derailed by Rizzo’s failing health. LeBron and Kyrie ran into the same problems in the finals against Golden State last year, when Irving was sidelined after Game 1 with a devastating knee injury. Irving still hasn’t returned, and though the Cavaliers are playing well (9-2 so far), it’s hard to see them reaching their ultimate goal without him. Just like Buck, LeBron needs his Rizzo to succeed. In Midnight Cowboy, Buck does everything he can to support his friend, acquiring money by hook or by crook and buying them tickets out of town. Guess where they were headed?

1969, MIDNIGHT COWBOY

Miami.

All the Cavs fans just turned  a little green. Don’t worry guys, LeBron won’t leave again. At least, I don’t think he will. But if Kyrie winds up dead on a bus (figuratively, of course), it’s going to be hard for the King to recover.

Golden State Warriors = The King’s Speech

The Warriors are currently operating at a level that bears comparison to royalty. A 13-0 start to this year, following their amazing 67-15 regular season (not to mention the NBA title) last year, has them up there with the all-time great teams in NBA history.

The King’s Speech deals with the ascension of King George VI, abandoned by his brother King Edward VII, a man who was ill-suited for the throne. Before taking the kingly name George, to honour his father, Prince Albert was known simply as Bertie, to his family. For those who follow the Warriors, Stephen Curry has always just been Steph.

Steph was always an underdog. Like Bertie, he came from a good family but he wasn’t thought to be quite as talented as his father, at least not at first. He wasn’t big enough, strong enough, fast enough. All this doubt pushed him. He made the most of his gifts. He became cerebral. He created weapons for himself. Like Bertie, who was always a capable representative of the Crown, Steph began his career positively. They both became fan favourites. However, all of it seemed to be for naught, because try though they might, neither Bertie nor Steph could perform adequately on a consistent enough basis to be counted on.

For Bertie, it was a crippling stutter. For Steph, it was his wonky ankles. Both flaws seemed like they might derail otherwise promising careers. However, both had fierce support systems, help that wouldn’t allow them to fail. For Curry, it was a matter of strengthening his hips and glutes, to take the pressure off his lower extremities. Bertie met with a soothsayer of sorts, the indomitable Lionel Logue, speech therapist. Logue was kind of like his Steve Kerr. All the necessary tools were present, they just need to be implemented correctly, in a system that allowed him to succeed.

As with Logue and Bertie, Kerr and Steph reached their ultimate goal. Bertie became one of the most beloved Kings in the history of Britain, helping comfort and lead the country through World War II; Curry is the MVP and a world champion.

Everybody likes a feel good story!

kingslayercurry

Alright, we’re mixing one too many mediums here.

And the Oscar goes to…

I mean, was there ever any doubt? The Warriors are winning everything these days! Congratulations to Steph, Steve and the rest of the folks in the Bay Area. You triumphed over misery, insanity and depression at every turn with your ability to overcome adversity in the face of ultimate pressure. Well done!

Well that’s it for this year. I’m looking forward to writing this column in 2017, when I can compare Kobe in his new job to Michael Keaton in Birdman and the Houston Rockets to the Hateful Eight. And if there are Kristaps Porzingis-Driving Miss Daisy parallels, you know I’ll find them.

Happy movie watching.

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