Thursday, October 28, 2010
Hello, my Puddlers. This has been a hectic week for a variety of reasons so I apologize for the lack of posts. Mr. Alex Ramsdell had some personal matters to attend to this week, but his column will be back up next Tuesday for you all to enjoy. I was going to substitute a Halloween themed post up, but for a variety of reasons (work related) I wasn't able to get that up (although I may still be able to). However, we do have a podcast.
As I have mentioned before, one of the ongoing projects I have tried to curate for the blog is the release of all the recorded material for one of my favorite bands in the Brooklyn area - Forest City. Obviously, all of the members of the band are friends of mine and I thought it would be worthwhile to share their material with the world. This has become a more pressing issue since my good friend Nick Mencia will be moving to Miami this week in order to start his own sorbet business (more promotion on that as he and his wife give me the go ahead).
This project, titled Puddles of Myself: Free Forest City Redemption, will feature tracks culled from various Forest City recording sessions over the past year. The tracks will be posted individually for stream and free download. Once all the tracks have been posted, the entire "album" will be posted for complete download. There will also be a chance to pay for the album through CD Baby, in case you feel inclined to donate. The whole project will have a section of the blog devoted to it that you can navigate to using the orange bar at the top of the blog.
The podcast today features Nick Mencia and Ted Robinson who are the primary songwriters in Forest City. In this, Episode 25 of Puddles of My Podcast, Nick, Ted and I all sit down to discuss the writing process and meaning behind six of the featured Forest City songs, the nature of Forest City as a band, the notion of wanting to fail, birthday parties, how to write a song, what both Nick and Ted learned from playing in Forest City as well as the most rewarding part of listening to a song. This is a must listen podcast that I highly recommend.
In addition, the band will be playing their final show at the Brooklyn Rod & Gun Club, which is located on Kent Street across from the East River Park - the home of the JellyNYC Pool Parties.
These tracks and this band have meant a lot of different things to a lot of different people and it was a creative effort that I believe, perhaps did not go in vain.
Monday, October 25, 2010
It seems like only a year ago that I was lazily floating along, debating whether or not to devote myself to making this blog an actual entity with different kinds of content; that was actually updated frequently. It seems like only a year ago that I was writing a belated preview of the 2009-2010 NBA season about a month after the season had already started. Oh, wait, all of that really was a year ago. Look how far we’ve come: tons of different content, a variety of stupid and interesting podcasts and posts that are on time and actually before the events that they are written about. If that isn’t progress, I don’t know what is. You should be thrilled you follow this blog.
All of this is just a long preamble to stating how much this blog has changed as well as how much the NBA has changed. You would be extremely hard pressed to find a time when the NBA changed this dramatically from one season to the next. Perhaps you could make the argument for the 1993-1994 season, which was the season immediately following Michael Jordan’s first retirement. You could also make an argument for the 1998-1999 season, which followed M.J’s second retirement and was also the strike-shortened season that saw the birth of the Spurs dynasty. And I would also possibly listen to an argument for the 1979-1980 season when Bird and Magic came into the league, though there was still a slow climb to make out of the cocaine/tape-delayed Finals games-era. However, none of those years can come even close to the shift over this past summer. Just a few highlights:
- The Miami Heat becoming the nWo of basketball.
- Amare coming to the Knicks.
- The Bulls becoming the “Team that makes sense.”
- Kevin Durant playing like the best player in the world at the FIBA World Games.
- The Lakers becoming deeper.
- The Celtics becoming deeper and bigger.
- Ticket prices being raised all around the league because of the Heat factor.
- Carmelo Anthony basically saying that he will only come to the New York Knicks.
- Dwight Howards’ training sessions with Hakeem Olajuwon.
- The Miami Heat.
There have been a ton of roster changes league-wide and there is definitely a shift in balance of power to the Eastern Conference. We are entering a league where there are once again a handful of elite, dominant, deep teams, rather than many watered down teams. This isn’t the NFL. The NBA prospers on the strength of memorable teams that go extraordinarily deep. Now, we have a chance to remember the following teams: ’10-’11 Heat (for obvious reasons), ’10-’11 Lakers (three-peat and Kobe matching Jordan), ’10-’11 Celtics (vindication for KG, cementing legacies of Big Three, Shaq pulling even with Kobe), ’10-’11 Magic (Dwight’s first (only?) title), ’10-’11 Thunder (far-fetched, but Kevin Durant’s first title and coup for smart management). That’s five potential memorable/historic teams. That kind of potential is never there at the beginning of a season – not at least in recent memory.
So, as you can see, there is a lot to look forward to this season. Now, I am going to take you team by team, through the entire league in order to tell you why you should care about each team in the NBA and what will happen to them.
Why You Should Care: There are plenty of reasons why you should care. They are poised to be the main competition to the Heat in the East. Garnett looks healthy and has a spring in his step that he seemed to have lost the last two years. Shaq is in shape. They picked up Delonte West to pair with Nate Robinson has part of their second team, which will be explosive. Big Baby and Shaq on the court at the same time. Rondo pulling off two to three moves a game that make you question everything you knew about basketball. Pierce looking to cement his legacy as one of the best lifetime Celtics. Allen looking for redemption from the 2010 Finals. And finally Rondo playing with a huge chip on his shoulder because he was kicked of the 2010 FIBA gold medal team and looking to destroy every point guard (read Derrick Rose) he faces. This is going to be a fun team to watch.
What Will Happen To Them: They have a chance to win over 60 games and will most likely play the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. That series will most likely go six or seven games. However, I think the Heat take them.
New Jersey Nets
Why You Should Care: They have perhaps the best owner in the league in Mikhail Prokhorov bringing mysterious Russian vibes. Brooke Lopez is the second best center in the league and is poised to make a leap. Derrick Favors as tremendous upside as a rookie. Avery Johnson is a passionate coach and this team was terrible last year so that all want to win. They have young intriguing talent in Travis Outlaw, Anthony Morrow and Terrence Williams. They might be Carmelo’s backup plan.
What Will Happen To Them: The Nets were terrible last year, so they can only go up. They will get out to a slow start, then get frisky right before and after the All-Star Game, leading to some “eighth seed” attention that will die out as the team loses steam at the tail end of the season. Avery Johnson comes in second place in the Coach of the Year voting.
New York Knicks
Why You Should Care: Amare Stoudemire is one of those rare athletes who relish playing in New York. He is dying to prove he is the man and that his success wasn’t only because of Steve Nash. He is going to be playing with a lot to prove, which will motivate him – big year. The New York crowd will be revitalized. The Garden will be relevant again. Ronny Turiaf and Anthony Randolph will be huge fan favorites that we remember fondly years from now as slightly watered down Anthony Mason and Charles Oakley type figures. Danilo will have a big year and they will get Carmelo Anthony right before the trade deadline in February.
What Will Happen To Them: The frenzied crowd at the Garden, Amare’s big year and the late addition of Carmelo will ride them to a strong seventh seed in the East where the Celtics will prove too much for them in the first round of the playoffs. Mike D’Antoni gets Coach of the Year honors and the Knicks fans can look forward to a big step forward in 2011-2012 with a full year of Carmelo and Amare. Unless there is a lockout.
Why You Should Care: Elton Brand is supposed to be healthy so he may make them friskier than expected. Maybe Andre Iguodala will recognize his true strengths as a basketball player after the great role he played on the 2010 FIBA team. Maybe Evan Turner won’t be pouty and will live up to expectations as a rookie.
What Will Happen To Them: Realistically, this team will not be very good. They will be at the bottom of the conference and are definitely looking lottery. Their best option is to figure out some kind of trade scenario and blow this team up. It’ll be hard with Brand’s contract, but they can’t build around Iguodala – he needs to go to a good team and be their defensive stopper on the wing and third or fourth scoring option. They will have some painful, painful games to watch.
Why You Should Care: Because they might literally become the worst team of all time. There is no one on this team – absolutely no one. I can’t believe that more people aren’t pointing this out. They do have Reggie Evans and his Twitter Feed for humor, but that’s it. They need to move a lot of pieces around and try to become a mediocre team built around Demar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani – maybe Ed Davis if he pans out as a rookie and puts on more weight.
What Will Happen To Them: They will be the worst team in the league. This will not be pretty. I’m very serious about this team. They are going to stink.
Why You Should Care: Derrick Rose is going to make a big leap this year as a point guard and as possibly a Top Ten/Top Fifteen player in the league. Joakim Noah is going to be a revelation down in the post on offense and especially on defense and open a lot of eyes. Once they get Carlos Boozer back you are going to see a new dimension to their offense that they have not had – possibly ever. Rose and Boozer will run some great pick and rolls. Deng will have a good year and remind people why he was overvalued back in the 2005-2007 days. They will play great team defense and will fit together as a team. This team just makes a lot of sense. You will learn about basketball watching them.
What Will Happen To Them: They will finish as the fifth seed in the East. Since Boozer will be out the first month or so of the season, they will be playing catch up to the Bucks and I think it will be close but the Bucks will take the division. That means that they’ll play each other in the first round of the playoffs, which will be a classic series that the Bulls will take in seven. Then, they will fall to the Heat in a “hard fought, but the Heat are just too good” five game series. You can mark my words on that one.
Why You Should Care: Have you ever been in a long-term relationship that seemed to be going so well; the girl was your high school sweetheart and it seemed like the two of you were going to get married and live happily ever after but then all of a sudden you were getting ready to propose and she told you she was in love with someone else? Well, that is what happened to the Cleveland Cavaliers and we are going to watch an entire team and city sort through that sort of depression and mess for much of the season. It’s completely unprecedented. And the reaction to LeBron returning to Cleveland? I don’t know if we can even begin to fathom what that moment will actually be like. Plus they have Jamison, Mo Williams, Varajao, JJ Hickson and some other role players that made get traded to interesting places and might make good teams even better.
What Will Happen To Them: Many of the pieces of this team will be traded away during this season as they try to rebuild the team. Hopefully Cleveland fans will have patience and not try multiple suicide attempts or homicide attempts on LeBron when he visits. This team will be bad, but they won’t play horrendous basketball.
Why You Should Care: If you don’t like basketball, there is really no reason why you should care about this team. They are going to be bad. The only reason to be interested in them is that they have so many weird parts that there is a way they might be so whacky that they actually confuse teams and beat them.
What Will Happen To Them: If Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva try hard there is a chance they can make a run at the eight seed. However, that scenario is pretty much unlikely and they will be showcasing some brutal basketball.
Why You Should Care: The Pacers always trot out a lot of white guys for the race purists out there (is that offensive? And to who?). Danny Granger is a terrific scorer and always entertaining to watch. They made a big trade to get Darren Collison as their point guard and that could pay off. They have Tyler Hansbrough who could put in a productive sophomore season and become one of the more likeable hardworking guys in the league. Uh, well, I’m really stretching here, but there is something about this Pacers team that I kind of like. I want them to do well.
What Will Happen To Them: The best case scenario is that Collison plays like he did last year and his ability teamed up with Granger’s scoring and Roy Hibbert’s jump from an average center to a good center could provide them with some options on offense that might lead to a run at the eighth seed. Their fate is similar to the Nets: some possible eighth seed gossip, but most likely a fadeout. They will not play completely awful basketball.
Why You Should Care: One of the best stories of last season was the Bucks’ surprising run into the playoffs as well as their fan’s adopting the “Fear the Deer” slogan invented by Andrew Bogut. Unfortunately, the Bucks were too inexperienced and Bogut was injured and they weren’t able to beat the Hawks in their first round series. The Bucks with Bogut would have put up more of an effort against the Magic than the Hawks did. Well, the band is back for this team (what?) and Bogut will look to build on his season last year so that more people notice that he is actually a very solid center. Jennings will look to raise more eyebrows after his impressive rookie season and contend with Rondo, Rose and Wall as the most exciting young point guard in the league. They have some wild card additions in Drew Gooden and Corey Maggette that could very well pan out.
What Will Happen To Them: I’m thinking nothing but best-case scenario for this likable team and their great fan base. I think the Bucks will actually surprise a lot of people and get to the four seed in the East. The fans will feel a bit of a setback when they lose to the Bulls in seven games in the first round, but the Bulls are going to be hot going into the playoffs. The wild card is that Scott Skiles is a hard ass coach that can grate on players. Hopefully that doesn’t happen this year or next year so we can see a little Bulls/Bucks rivalry develop.
Why You Should Care: For the past three years the Hawks have boasted a young, dynamic, exciting and talented (?) roster. You never know when Josh Smith is going to throw down a ridiculous dunk or make a fantastic block. Al Horford is one of the best young big men in the league. Jamal Crawford is an erratic Sixth Man who is capable of putting up big points. Joe Johnson is a boring, solid and unremarkable star. Oh, that last one’s not drawing you in? Well, its not like the Hawks spent 127 million dollars signing him to a new contract in the offseason. Oh, wait, they did.
What Will Happen To Them: The Hawks are such an erratic team there is no true way to tell what will happen to them. They are dangerous one moment and then lackadaisical the next. That’s what you get with a team of borderline head cases (well Josh Smith is a head case). They are going to take a step back this year as the Bucks and the Bulls are much more cohesive teams and have better coaches. The Hawks will fall to the sixth seed where the Magic will dispatch of them in the first round as easily as they did last year (although that may not be possible as the way the Magic whipped the Hawks last year was ridiculous). Then, the Hawks try to retool the roster but realize they paid Joe Johnson 127 million dollars. Oopey.
Why You Should Care: Any team with Stephen “Captain Jack” Jackson on it will be worth watching. Captain Jack has developed into one of the better league personalities we have had in the last few years. Jackson may be dynamic or he may be a head case and demand a trade. There are some interesting prospects with Jackson, Gerald Wallace and Ty Thomas (poised to make a big leap from what I hear) all playing together. There’s also the fact that Michael Jordan is the owner and he might make bold statements during the year and also that they are paying Boris Diaw and Dasagna Diop a combined 15 million dollars. Trust me, that is absurd.
What Will Happen To Them: The Bobcats lost a lot of small pieces from their playoff team and they don’t seem to resemble a team that will play very good basketball. All this being said, that may just be enough for them to sneak into the eight seed in the East. The Heat will sweep them in the first round.
Why You Should Care: They are drawing hate only matched by the nWo in the heyday of the WCW. The two best players in the league are playing together for the first time ever and the two best perimeter players are playing together for the first time since Baylor and West. You will get to know Chris Bosh as a player. This is an experiment in unselfishness and suppression of ego that is unprecedented in sports history. Their team coming to any U.S. city will be an event. They may save the economies of some failing cities and the raised ticket sales for ALL OF THEIR AWAY GAMES may help prevent the lockout (although this is not really plausible, it is still very fun to think about). LeBron is playing with a huge chip on his shoulder after all the insults he took in the offseason. We will finally get to see Dwyane Wade play with a team that resembles an actual pro basketball team. I could make up a million more reasons why you should care, but really, this is historic stuff.
What Will Happen To Them: I am on the side of optimism for this team. I think they constructed the bench and supporting players very conservatively and practically. Everyone on this team will have their role and will not be asked to stretch more than they can do. Dwyane and LeBron will anchor and guide everything and each one of those guys is capable of pulling a team through an off night. They will get everyone’s best shot, but I am predicting 66 wins and they win the title over the Lakers. Next year (if not lockout) is the year they go for the Bull’s wins record.
Why You Should Care: They are a perennial contender in the East. They have Dwight Howard. Dwight Howard spent the offseason in private training sessions with Hakeem Olajuwon that you can view on YouTube, so you can expect his post game to show visible signs of improvement. Vince Carter may play like a man who has balls at one point in the season. Stan Van Gundy has lashed out at Pat Riley and LeBron for all the offseason moves. The Magic genuinely seem to have a chip on their shoulder for being overlooked and could surprise the Heat or Celtics in the playoffs, although that scenario is not very likely.
What Will Happen To Them: They will finish as the three seed and meet the Celtics in the second round of the playoffs. Unless Dwight has really improved his post moves, they will face the same fate that met them in the Eastern Conference Finals last year. I’m thinking history will repeat itself.
Why You Should Care: They drafted John Wall who will eventually become one of the best point guards in the league, who will perform freakish feats on a Rondo-scale, except that he is more athletic and perhaps more of a freak than Rondo is. Gilbert Arenas has possibly lost his mind. If Gilbert Arenas actually buys into playing the two-guard position and focuses simply on making shots, he and Wall could form a potent backcourt. JaVale McGee will be receiving tons of alley-oops from John Wall. They are slowly putting pieces into place to have a good team.
What Will Happen To Them: John Wall will carry them to a few surprise wins and will deliver some fantastic highlight reel plays. I have heard his on-court aura is already being compared to Iverson’s rookie year, which is a big compliment. However, it seems like Gilbert has really lost his mind and may end up undermining this team. If not, there is a chance they could make some kind of weak run at the number eight seed, but that is unlikely. They will have some moments of good basketball.
Why You Should Care: They have Carmelo Anthony – for now. Carmelo Anthony might get traded. They have a roster full of head cases who do and say crazy things (i.e. JR Smith popcorn trick on Kenyon Martin’s car). They are talented. They could make a run at the West if they keep their dysfunction in line.
What Will Happen To Them: They won’t keep their dysfunction in line and will most likely self-destruct right around the All-Star Break. Carmelo trade rumors will weigh the team down until Carmelo is actually traded to the Knicks, which will keep the Nuggets out of the playoffs. If Carmelo stays, they are a dysfunctional team that lands the seven seed and matches up with the Mavericks in the first round – that could be an interesting upset special.
Why You Should Care: Because their owner, David Kahn, is an idiot who lacks any form of self-awareness. Because David Kahn has made a million head scratching signings and trades. Because David Kahn had one of the most awkward interactions ever with Chris Weber during the offseason. They have a lot of young talent that could work if they were assembled on a team with an actual plan. Mike Love is one of the most underrated players in the league. Michael Beasley may or may not be stoned for all of their deep winter games when he can’t leave his home in Minneapolis. They might actually surprise some people and win a few games.
What Will Happen To Them: They will most likely not surprise and will be one of the worst teams in the league. They have a lot of nice pieces, but until they figure out how they actually want to build this team - form an identity on offense or defense, the roles of the players they have, the roles of players they need to get – they will not be playing enjoyable basketball to watch. I’ll watch it, though, because they do have some good young players.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Why You Should Care: Kevin Durant. Kevin Durant. Kevin Durant. Russell Westbrook is one of the most exciting young guards in the game and throws down some of the most ridiculous dunks as well. He took a big leap at the FIBA Games and his poised to do the same this season. Jeff Green needs to prove his worth after disappearing against the Lakers. James Harden will improve in his second year. KU alumni Nick Collison and Cole Aldridge will form a hilarious white boy mentor-pupil duo on the front line. Serge Ibaka will open your eyes at least once a game. They are a well-built, hard playing, very likable young team.
What Will Happen To Them: They surprised some teams last year, but they were really that good. Durant has taken it to another level, as has Westbrook so they will keep up with the good teams and the teams that aren’t surprised any more. Their role players all look to improve as well. I see them as the number three seed (long season still catches up to them), but they will get past the Mavericks in the second round and make it to the Western Conference Finals.
Why You Should Care: Greg Oden might play a full season. Brandon Roy is a good player. Brandon Roy and Andre Miller might fight each other. They are always competitive and have a lot of nice role players. They have great fans and a great jersey. I can’t think of anything else to really get you excited about the Trailblazers. I like them as a team and they will not play bad basketball. They will actually play some very good basketball at times. There, that’s my endorsement.
What Will Happen To Them: This is a tough one to pick. If Denver bottoms out, then either they or the Suns will finish as the seventh seed in the West. If Denver doesn’t bottom out, then it is very likely that they will not make the playoffs. It sounds strange to me as I’m writing it because I think they are a good team, but seeds two through seven in the West will be tight. To be fair, if they make the playoffs, they can definitely pull up an upset. Also, they can’t have any more injuries than they did last year.
Why You Should Care: Jerry Sloan always coaches his team well. Deron Williams is one of the top three point guards in the league. The Jazz got an absolute steal when they took Al Jefferson from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Jefferson is a quality big man with legitimate low-post moves who has never played on a good team or a competent coach (one year with Doc Rivers doesn't count because Doc didn't gain competence until the 2008 Finals when he somehow turned on a coaching switch). Jefferson is actually an upgrade over Boozer. They usually trot out a dynamic team with the likes of Okur, Kirilenko and Fesenko. They always seem to play people tough. They have switched back to their old jersey's with the music symbols - definite plus.
What Will Happen To Them: They will finish as the six seed in the West and face Oklahoma City in the first round. They will play Oklahoma City tough and this is a series that should potentially go seven games. You have to like the Westbrook vs. Williams matchup as well as the Oklahoma City big men trying to match up with Jefferson, Okur and Fesenko. However, the Jazz really have no match for Kevin Durant and that will prove to be the difference. A very enjoyable series, though, with two well coached and good chemistry teams.
Golden State Warriors
Why You Should Care: Stephen Curry is a really good and exciting basketball player who will be even more comfortable in his second NBA season. David Lee will enjoy playing with another player who can pass and play good basketball. They changed their uniforms and they look cool – I think. Don Nelson is not the coach anymore and they actually have a coach who cares about what happens to the team. They have a versatile roster that could surprise a few teams (hint: this is my code for there are a lot of random players that I know about and that most people the don’t really follow the NBA know about. These players are not really worth following or knowing about, but I do: Louis Amundsen, Ekpe Udoh, Andris Biedrins.). And, finally, they have a fantastic home crowd.
What Will Happen To Them: They will most likely not surprise many teams and will finish at the lower portion of the standings. However, it will be entertaining to watch Curry and Lee play together. With some lucky, they may end up getting a top spot in the lottery.
Los Angeles Clippers
Why You Should Care: Blake Griffin may actually get to play his rookie season. This is important because he has looked insane in the preseason. He could be one of the most exciting players this year. His play could inspire Baron Davis and you always want to watch a team with an inspired Baron Davis. Griffin and Kaman in the post could be extremely formidable. Eric Gordon took a huge leap forward during the FIBA Games and could be your Most Improved Player. You will become more familiar with his name.
What Will Happen To Them: If Blake Griffin does not get injured, I see the Clippers landing the eight seed in the West and facing the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs in the Staples Center Showdown (better name?) This will be a series with some serious Golden State/Dallas 2007 potential. All of L.A. is watching. Lakers are going for a three-peat. Baron in front of plenty of Hollywood stars. Blake Griffin’s playoff debut. This could be huge. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.
Los Angeles Lakers
Why You Should Care: Kobe Bryant. Pau Gasol (one of the most amazing players in the game to watch). Ron Artest. Andrew Bynum (and his knee). Lamar Odom. Derek Fischer. Phil Jackson. The two-time defending champs are looking for a three peat. This would give Phil twelve rings (four three-peats). This would give Kobe six rings (two three-peats) and would draw more Jordan comparisons. Artest is on the team for the love of god. Odom loves candy. They are deeper this year than they were last year. This team will play very good basketball and it may be the last time to see some of these players playing at this level.
What Will Happen To Them: They will cruise through the West much like the 1992-1993 Bulls cruised through the East. They will try to keep their energy and strength for the playoffs. It will be a tougher road through this year because of the matchup problems, but they will get to the Finals. I believe they will take Miami to seven games in “The Series That Saves the NBA,” but will lose. Cue the downward slope of Kobe’s career.
Why You Should Care: Steve Nash is a freak of nature and he eats a very healthy diet that promotes energy and strength – you should follow it. They have some great chemistry role players like Jared Dudley. You should always enjoy watching Grant Hill play and appreciate how he has made a career even after his body was ravaged by injuries (one of the greatest in the game pre-injury). They always score a lot. They are never not entertaining to watch.
What Will Happen To Them: They lost Amare to free agency, which is a big blow. They also lost a few good role players and may have too many small forwards. They may not be able to get their same chemistry back from last year where it seemed like everyone cared and understood what to do. If the Nuggets don’t self-destruct, I see them sneaking into the seventh seed (Why not the Clippers? I don’t know, my logic is flawed.) as the best possible scenario. Otherwise, there is a good chance this likable team misses the playoffs.
Why You Should Care: Tyreke Evans was the Rookie of the Year last year. He is poised to improve this year. He drove his purple car 120 miles per hour over the offseason. They drafted DeMarcus Cousins who is potentially the biggest head case with the most potential since Rasheed Wallace (that is a huge compliment as ‘Sheed was one of the most talented players to come out of college in the past twenty years. He had every tool and every move and he just chose to waste so much of it because he was a head case.). They have a good young turk in Omri Casspi (actually Turkish). Ah, that’s about it. The rest of the team is kind of garbage.
What Will Happen To Them: They will be an exciting team and hopefully the duo of Evans and Cousins works out because they are both freaks and could anchor that team for the next decade if all goes right. Unfortunately, they will play some terrible basketball when they are not making you stand out of your seat. If they draft well next year (if there is a draft) they could possibly sneak into the eight seed in 2011-2012.
Why You Should Care: Dirk Nowitzki is one of the most underrated NBA players of all time. He is on his way to a Hall of Fame career and is reaching some big statistical milestones. They are always competitive. They are big enough with the addition of Tyson Chandler to provide a legitimate challenge to the Lakers. Roddy Beaubois is one of the fastest players in the league. They are one of the deepest teams in the league and could make a surprise trade near the trade deadline in February to make a legitimate run at the Finals.
What Will Happen To Them: They will be the number two seed in the West. I don’t see them actually making a trade at the deadline, because for all of his talk, Cuban is usually conservative when it comes to making trades. They will make it all the way to the Western Conference Finals. After winning the first game of the series and putting a scare in the Lakers, Kobe will win Game 2 at the buzzer and shift the dynamic of the series. The Lakers will win in six games.
Why You Should Care: Yao Ming is a good player. They have a deep and well-rounded team that fits together well. Kevin Martin is an overlooked player because he played on so many bad Sacramento teams. Shane Battier is always one of the top defenders in the league. Luis Scola showed the world what he is capable in the FIBA World Games this summer. They are a big, physical and dynamic team that can surprise people.
What Will Happen To Them: They will have a solid regular season and finish as the fourth seed in the West. They will meet the Spurs in the first round, which will be a bruising series that will definitely call to mind some early-90’s Eastern Conference battles. The Rockets will unfortunately lose that series in seven games.
Why You Should Care: They have a young core of good players like O.J. Mayo and Xavier Henry. They showed signs of progress last year. Marc Gasol is becoming one of the best low post players in the league. If Zach Randolph tries, they can be seriously dangerous down low. Zach Randolph is a head case. Hasheem Thabeet apparently improved from “awful” to “not so terrible” over the summer, which could help them. Rudy Gay just got overpaid during the summer and has to try and live up to his contract. They have some random pieces that could make them competitive. They have an unpredictable, wild card feel.
What Will Happen To Them: The West is full of so many good teams that are hard to get a definitive read on. I think that the Grizzlies will challenge for the eight seed, but with teams like the Suns, Nuggets and Clipper lurking around, it may be tough for them to break back through into the postseason. I don’t see it happening.
New Orleans Hornets
Why You Should Care: Chris Paul. They have a “not terrible” starting lineup now that they’ve added Trevor Ariza who will hopefully add a little toughness to the team. Emeka Okafor might not be a total stiff as their center. Jerryd Bayless can help spell Chris Paul when they need him to. Quincy Pondexter might be a surprising rookie. Let’s face it, Chris Paul is the only reason to care about this team and there is still a chance he could get traded this season.
What Will Happen To Them: Although Chris Paul is a good guy and will try to put this team on his back, I don’t really see them going anywhere. They won’t play terrible basketball mostly because of Paul, but also because Ariza will be a nice running mate and David West is always solid. Okafor only needs to finish alley-oops and stay healthy like Tyson Chandler did in the 2007-2008 season, when the team made it to the second round of the playoffs. I think they will miss the cut of the playoffs, though I believe Paul will finish the season with the team.
San Antonio Spurs
Why You Should Care: Tim Duncan will not be in the league for many more years and I’ve come around on him as a player. The Spurs are always dangerous with Parker and Ginobli. Dejuan Blair is a tough player and rebounder inside and an excellent chemistry/glue-guy. People are very high on Tiago Splitter’s capabilities as a rookie. Richard Jefferson has been with the team for a year and will hopefully have better chemistry. George Hill is a nice player. Antonio McDyess is always reliable and can knock down clutch jumpers. They are the Spurs and they never really die.
What Will Happen To Them: The Spurs always hang around. Even last year when everyone thought they were dead in the water, they were able to upset the Mavericks in the first round. This year, they finish as the five seed in the West thanks to one last solid Duncan season. They take the Rockets in an epic seven game first round series and then push the Lakers to six games in the second round. They are just too old in general and not quite big enough to handle the Lakers and their depth. You can put that one in the books.
So, there you have it. An exhaustive wrap-up of every team in the league. I may be an NBA freak, but this season, there are legitimate reasons to care about every team and that is a good thing. This will be one of the best NBA seasons in history, so please sit back and enjoy it.
Friday, October 22, 2010
Hey, all my Puddlers. Sorry for the lack of activity this week. There were two podcasts that I was supposed to record, but they both needed to be rescheduled. However in the coming two weeks, we will have podcasts with Erik Gundel of Motel Motel, a secret podcast, and the NBA Season Preview podcast with Miles Debas of Snakes Say Hiss and Paul Sicilian of Tony Castles, both Boston Celtics homers whose bands are both playing the CMJ festival this week. There will also be an ongoing special project as part of the blog that you will have to stay tuned for. I think some of you will be pretty (slightly?) excited about it.
Also, what you all should be tremendously excited about his my 2010-2011 NBA Preview column that will be going up on Monday. I go through every team in the league, tell you why you should care about every team and then predict what their fate will be. I'm a pretty humble guy, but this is the best piece of fucking writing that you will ever fucking read in your miserable, self-involved lives.
Now, speaking of CMJ and other assorted topics of life, Mr. Mark Jack is here to deliver his weekly column to you all. In this post, Mr. Jack ruminates on a variety of things, but most of all some poignant theories of walking around listening to music and the nature of history. This main is articulate and concise. You should all tell him how much you love him.
OK, my Puddlers, now I step aside and leave you with Mark Richard Jack to lead you to your weekend.
Lower Dens and Walking History
So, you made notes on American History. You walked with your ears pointed at inward angles, with your ears stuffed with nascent, floral stuff, and wondered as the world passed like a movie and you thought how easy it would be to make a movie of one long, smooth tracking shot of the world - if only you had the right soundtrack...and a decent camera. You made little notes on our expectations and fears and, well look...
Maybe no one else feels this way, but I love a good walk with soundtrack. My whole approach to the personal music player is in some way enhancement and/or complement to the world as visual experience. Now, I do like listening to the various sounds of the world sometimes, but I find music to be a useful (almost) way to approach a life lived amidst so much that is not readily, personally identifiable. The anonymity of the city, as it were, becomes personalized movie when a good album is running alongside a world that, because it is muted by headphones and notes, is more vibrantly visual. Of course, certain music is required for the experience, and not just good music. There are plenty of albums that I adore and yet will not listen to while walking. Recently I found a beautiful album, or rather, my friend Kieran over at his blog, Big Head Stevenson, alerted me to it, that lends itself perfectly to a cinematic stroll.
I don’t think I am necessarily revealing a hidden gem, but the Baltimore based band Lower Dens and their album, Twin-Hand Movement is a near perfect walking album.
They’re playing a number of shows at this years CMJ, so if you are in New York today, you can still check them out. I haven’t seen them in concert yet, though I’ve heard they’re fantastic. Of course, what really interested me about this album is the way in which the beautiful melodies, small and repetitive, almost ephemeral, combine with driving but not obnoxiously insistent rhythms to move ones ear-budded mobile mood. I don’t really want to go into an in depth review of this album, and I don’t think anything would be served by such a move. This post is more a review of sountracked walking--I’ve got to develop a better term.
So if I can offer some advice: buy Twin-Hand Movement and go for a walk. Feel the world around you and create a vague narrative that creatively compliments the visual and auditory experience. Seriously, it’s either that or get those fucking earbuds out of your soil head and be in the world as it is. Not that I am in any position to speak of any thing as it is - as if it does remain constant. Look, how we inscribe ourselves in/onto to the world is never a permanent act. We write ourselves into history, over and over again. If we do not pay attention to the material around us, the streets as sentences the people as paragraphs or punctuation (depending) then we confine ourselves to boring footnotes at best. The prevalence of the iPod is not something that is necessarily damaging of the societal fabric. Trust me, pick up this album and go for an observant stroll.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Well, now that you have digested all of my Mad Men analysis for one season, I am sure you are looking for a break for some actual intelligent and insightful prose. Here to give that insight to you in the second installment of his weekly column (which is now titled In the Heart of the Heart of My Bookshelf) , is Mr. Alex Ramsdell.
Up on Cyprus Avenue: Some Thoughts on Van Morrison and a Brief Observation on the Magic of Astral Weeks
Even as a kid, I knew that the guy singing "Brown Eyed Girl" was the man. I was hearing Morrison on Polydor's Best Of (with that Elvis-styled microphone on the front) that everybody’s parents had. But over time I started to realize that this validated hit-list is more relevant to the gift-giving season than it is to Morrison. It is a fine collection of individual songs, but the project it undertakes is impossible. It shows us the industry’s “artist” as an icon and so forces a disconnect between the artist and his work. Morrison is an album artist, or maybe even a phase artist. Prismatic treatment diminishes the depth of exploration in his music, the fact that he is never satisfied and yet still has such a masterful command of the album form. The Best Of is then a kind of tourism of a musical mind which cuts the continent of his poetic vision down to a list of capitals. “Here: this is the most important,” it says to us 20 or so times. But what is so distinct and lasting about Morrison is not the list of hits that gained him the attention of record labels and subsequent fame, but the texture of the career that envelops them. What is essential is the linked experiences and the visible horizon of the poet’s life that we inevitably come up against in submitting to his dedication to exploration.
Astral Weeks uncovers a possibility in music that remains part of Morrison’s mission even today. It operates largely by intuition and in doing so, captures his vision in a kind of unplanned dark. The vision is caught, moment by moment, via the beacon light of Morrison’s voice. It is a limited kind of chance as a mode of musicality. This meant hiring Berklee musicians and giving them no instructions except to “go ahead and play exactly what he felt”, as bassist Jayer Berliner would later remember, letting them ultimately follow each other in following Morrison. And in these songs, the voice becomes the thing which holds the entire movement together. Its impression extends far beyond the words and, like the wail of a banshee, becomes the justification and the very body of the soul in search of salvation.
If memory is fragmented, if it is mystical and involved in the ends of human life that exist beyond our experience of each present moment, then the notion that the narrative in Astral Weeks is fragmented holds, although it is not fragmented in an incomplete or an affected sense. It tells the story of Belfast and its people through the eyes of the poet who is rapt in memory: a city dying, loving, leaving, changing. The fragmentation exists in the lyrics—and here begins my chief observation—but the music sublimates the album’s crucial activity to a place where words cannot reach: the rhythm section. This is what grounds the fragmented content in experience, gives it truth, and so lets us receive Morrison’s experience as somehow more true than fact. The enactment of dwelling—walking with something possessing us: Madame George, a dying friend, a better place; going up to Cyprus Avenue, standing on the corner, or departing for somewhere else; meeting the edge of the Irish Sea to see yourself—this is all concretely and wordlessly rooted in the rhythm section. There is a part of the world that exists in us and yet is outside of thought, though this very part conditions thought. It is this other life of the body that we discover only in separation, which gives Astral Weeks its coherence. You could call it pace, but I do not mean to say that the tempo of each song is somehow a literal equivalent to walking, or to standing on the corner. No, the horizontal movement of the rhythm—often realized in equally emphasized eighth notes, and other times mystified by a free-form meter—is the body which completes the metaphor for the practicalities of being present in a city. If Astral Weeks is about intersecting avenues and intersecting lives in its city, it responsibly transmits this by grounding the album in its most basic element: the movement of legs. It goes unsaid but is there all the time.
Monday, October 18, 2010
In my review of “Blowing Smoke” last week I made a point of stating that the lead up to the finale of Mad Men lacked the usual feel of a contained “triptych” of episodes that typically brings each season to an end. After last night’s finale, “Tomorrowland,” that observation still holds true. “Chinese Wall,” “Blowing Smoke,” and “Tomorrowland” all had one similarity, which was the financial struggles of SCDP after losing Lucky Strike, but there was little else uniting each episode besides that fact – little else meaning that strange episodic feeling the last three episodes of a Mad Men season usually give us, which is not a feeling of contrivance but rather of an order or organization that organically leads to the revelations that are unfolded at the season’s conclusion. This season, each of the final three episodes was its own unique beast. Plenty of conflicts related to the future of SCDP were raised, but the actions and subplots around those conflicts seemed to be operating in completely different orbits. Perhaps this is why the past few episodes of Mad Men left me more disoriented than any other stretch of episodes have. This is not to say it the feeling of disorientation is something bad – in fact I have enjoyed these last few episodes and this entire season because interpreting and experiencing all of the actions has been so challenging – but rather something different than I am used to feeling at the end of a Mad Men season. Regardless of this sensation, the narrative of Season 4 left me in great anticipation of where the finale would leave us in the story.
The main topic of discussion from “Tomorrowland” was obviously the shocking decision that Don made to marry his secretary Megan. We all know that Don had slept with Megan in “Chinese Wall” but had kept it a secret from Faye and had seemed to move forward in “Blowing Smoke” with Faye as his girlfriend since they no longer had a “work” relationship and could explore their romance out in the open. However, “Blowing Smoke” presented us with the images of Don walking comfortably down the hall with Megan holding coffee, Megan telling Don she understood his intent when he took out the ad in the New York Times and of course the image of Don and Faye in the conference room with Megan sitting at her desk in the background, positioned so she appeared to be right in between them. It turns out that meaningful look that Don took at Megan at the end of “Chinese Wall” actually meant something and that Megan positioned between Faye and Don represented the fact that Megan was on Don’s mind, much as she was on the mind of the viewer – does he really like Faye or is there something there with Megan? Well, as Don said to Megan (and as he once said so earnestly to Miss Farrell) there was something there with Megan because he “couldn’t stop thinking about her.” I am not involved with the television world at all but I have seen and personally heard quite a few complaints about Don’s decision (the second most debated decision of the year behind Lebron’s Decision) already. The reaction to Don’s choice to marry Megan is justified, but we should look at it step by step over the course of the episode.
We know that Don has slept with Megan and that he may or may not have some kind of growing feelings for her. However, he still seems committed to Faye if not completely giving himself over (although, when does Don ever do this?) to their relationship. “Tomorrowland” starts with Faye giving Don advice about taking his head out of the sand about the past. Don replies stubbornly that it isn’t that easy to do so. Faye tells him that if he confronts the past, it may make dealing with his present easier and he can be “stuck trying to be a human being like the rest of us.” This again is not something that is easy for Don Draper to do since he has spent much of his adult life trying to be separate from the rest of the humans around him, to maintain his secrecy and in being removed, able to comment or decide what it is exactly that other humans are after, which is really what it is that he is after, what he is missing. Again, Faye has presented Don with a bit of truth about himself and about life, which is what makes her attractive to him. So, he tells her that he might miss her when she’s gone and we believe him.
However, at work, after his successful meeting with the American Cancer Society, Betty calls Don to tell him that she fired Carla. This is important for a variety of reasons (one of the obvious ones being Betty’s mistreatment of Carla), but mostly because Don is going to California for meetings and is going to bring the kids and he needed Carla’s help for “diapers!?” In trying to find a solution, Don propositions Megan to come along. Remembering Megan’s heroics in “Beautiful Girls,” Don tells Megan she’ll be perfect because “Sally loved you, Bobby likes a pretty face and the baby (wave of the hand).” Megan accepts and we groan as viewers because this isn’t going to end well. In California, Don takes the kids to Anna’s old house and admits a slight bit of his past to them, that his nickname is “sometimes Dick.” The house of the real Don Draper is being sold – symbolically it is no longer a part of Don/Dick’s life anymore. That place of solace is now gone just as Anna herself is gone.
Meanwhile, when Don and Sally and Bobby back at the hotel, Megan is a beautiful vision of youth with her large sunglasses on as she wades in the pool in the sun as she keeps Baby Gene occupied. The kids beg Don to get in the pool but he uses his usual excuse by telling everyone he is tired and retreats to his room. While Don is there, he sits on the bed alone, hunched over in thought as we have seen him so many times. In this instance, he decides to leave the room and go back out into the sun with his family. Don jumps into the pool and throws Bobby over his head into the deep end with a sense of joy and freedom that we don’t normally see from Don. Later that evening, Megan goes out with her “college friend” as she leaves with her friend they both look at Don sitting on the bed with his kids in a great snapshot of domesticity. Don loves his kids and has admitted to his struggles in spending time with them since the divorce, but here it seems like he is learning and perhaps it is the influence of this young girl who so openly welcomes and seems to love the children.
When Megan returns from her night out, Don is still up and restless. He goes over to her room to talk. She invites him in and they go out onto the balcony and Don tells her that he loves her teeth and that he’s been “thinking about her so much.” They sleep together and then in the pillow talk afterward, Don admits that he came over because he had to see her and he asks her if she envisioned their sleeping together happening when he asked her to come. Megan admits she had thought about it and Don tells her he wants to know if this will be an ongoing thing. “We’ll be with each other all day.” She tells him.
Then, they are all at the Howard Johnson’s and Sally spills her milkshake and, in one of the best moments of the series, everyone cringes and gets ready to explode, as things would have happened in the past with Betty at the table. However, Megan is calm and tells everyone that she has brought extra dresses to wear. The look that Don, Sally and Bobby all exchange is priceless. This, as many have remarked is the key to Don’s final decision to marry Megan because all of a sudden the scene cuts to New York with Don waking Megan up on his apartment to propose to her. Don is extremely excited and can barely contain himself. He even says that they will tell everyone at the office, which they do to mixed reactions. The episode now famously ends with Don and Megan lying in bed. Megan is sleeping while Don is awake looking out the window while “I Got You, Babe” plays.
That was the decision, now we have to look at the nature of Don. When Don has to call it off with Faye on the phone after his engagement, she tells him that she hopes this new woman “knows that [you] only like the beginnings of things.” This is not only a true statement for Don but for most people in general. The beginning of romance is always the most exciting. When things get complicated and the true nature of the shape of the relationship, the imperfections come to light, we often want to run away; we want that first impalpable sensation to come burning back deep within us. The complicated aspects of a relationships are often what makes a relationship true or worth having because it forces you to challenge yourself and not just get by on your charms or your comfort zone – a good relationship finds you trying to change and compromise since you are interacting with the desires and wishes of another human being. Faye has always challenged Don. She has met him at every turn intellectually (and by all accounts physically). Faye knows Don on a fundamental level and perhaps Faye is exactly what Don needs in order to successfully move forward, to reconcile the disparate parts of his past into one person in the present. However, Don has always looked for a figure that will comfort him as well. Like Anna Draper, Megan can comfort Don. She soothes him about his problems in “Chinese Wall.” She tells him how great his ad is in “Blowing Smoke.” In “Tomorrowland” she tells him how he is a good person and how she admires his desire to try to do better and to try to change. She says all this without knowing anything about his past. There is a strange and large dose of unconditional love in Megan’s relationship with Don and as a viewer we are not sure of it. In many ways, though, it echoes the viewer’s relationship to Don. Faye knows Don’s past, which makes her slightly dangerous to him, makes her slightly unattractive. Megan knows who he is now and who he can try to become. The viewer is a combination of Megan and Faye. We know all the things that Don has done and we know how he has tried to change and how much he desires to change but always seems to fail to do so. Megan knows nothing about the failures, but Faye does. We always want Don to come out on top. Why, though? I’m sure many people have asked that, but in all seriousness, why do we want him to succeed? Its because there is always an element of Megan in all of us, that desire to look past flaws and imperfections to allow people to change – there is a certain unconditional love that we feel for Don Draper. We don’t completely understand why Megan feels it and we don’t completely understand why we feel it. This raises a very strange and unique relationship with a character because unconditional love is only supposed to arise within the parameters of one’s family or through a relationship of “true love” with another person (though, many would argue that Peggy and Don have reached a point of unconditional love as well). We ultimately want to see Don happy for whatever reason. We would like him to figure himself out the correct way, but there was something utterly strange and intoxicating about seeing him so happy with Megan, seeing the intimacy of their pillow talk in the hotel. It was a baffling emotion to have for a fictional character, which is why I enjoyed the episode so much. It not only made me question this emotion but it also made me think about those people we meet and form relationships with, the people who know us but who we ultimately can’t be with for whatever the reason. And yet, there are other people who don’t know us yet but love us anyway. There is a skepticism that we should feel because these people don’t know us, how could they love us? Don does not feel this skepticism because Megan seems to unconditionally love him. There is no challenge. Don can be who he always wanted to be, as he tells Megan. There is a fine line there between what is right for each person and each instance. Do we want someone who is willing to look at the best in us, to put faith in us no matter what or do we want someone who will challenge us while still loving us for who we are. So perhaps this sort of muddled line of thinking is what is keeping Don up at night when he faces the reality of his situation and that perhaps he only does just like beginnings. Perhaps he is thinking of that strange interaction with Betty in the empty kitchen of their old home in Ossining.
Meanwhile, there were plenty of other tremendous moments. Peggy and Cosgrove team up to land the first account that SCDP has gotten since Lucky Strike left; Cosgrove tells the partners that his fiancée is his “life, life” and that he can never be Pete Campbell, doing whatever it takes to get an account; Henry tells Betty that “no one is on her side” and that “there is no fresh start, lives carry on,” which are two truths that were always unspoken on this show; and Joan was pregnant all along just like I predicted.
The moment between Joan and Peggy was also one of those classic Mad Men payoffs. These two women have butted heads throughout each season of Mad Men. There have been times when you though they might break the barrier and show some camaraderie or share an intimate moment. That never occurred until last night when Peggy storms into Joan’s office after she finds out that Don is engaged to Megan. Don had just told Peggy that Megan reminded him of her; that they had the same “spark.” Peggy tells him that she hopes he’s happy, but you can see her disappointment. She has just landed an account and once again, Don has taken the attention from her. She’s grown past that, but now that she and Don have reached a certain level in their relationship, she definitely expects more from him as a mentor, friend and confidant. There may even be that twinge of jealousy when someone we are friends with seems so happy in a relationship while we are still left figuring out why we can’t be happy as well. Peggy goes to Joan for comfort. They smoke cigarettes and complain about the firm, about the men that are still keeping them down. There is a great air of intimacy and we have waited to see these two characters share the screen in this way, but there is also an element of cheapness to the scene – it feels petty. We don’t want to see these two women acting this away alone and especially not together. However, maybe we have to allow them this moment.
I briefly mentioned Don and Betty’s “meeting” in the Ossining house. Betty has planned to meet Don when he shows up to meet the listing agent. She fixes herself up in her pocket mirror before Don comes in. When he does come in, she laughs at him grabbing the bottle of rye he had hidden in the kitchen cabinet. They share the liquor out of a big yellow mug and she looks longingly at him, which is fantastic acting by January Jones. She is a woman who knows Don’s past and she has started to realize that she perhaps misses what she threw away and didn’t understand. There is no clean start. Don may be on his way to finding this out in the next season and we may be able to point to this somewhat warm and vaguely intimate moment between he and Betty as leading to that eventual recognition, that look of him awake at night while Megan is sleeping on his chest.
Many people expected the season finale to involve Don landing some new business or a big new account that would save the company, but that wouldn’t have made sense. It wouldn’t have made sense, fiscally, for the company to rely on another big account and it wouldn’t have made sense for the season to wrap that conflict up so easily. Last year we were left on the precipice of the new agency. Even though Sterling Cooper had ended, there was a sense of unresolve due to the agency starting and Don moving into his new apartment alone. Why should this season have been any different? Peggy has landed new business and it looks like SCDP will get the American Cancer account and then perhaps a few other leads off that. The firm will survive. Perhaps they won’t prosper, but they will continue on.
The season finale had me thinking about what Matthew Weiner said in an interview, that this season was about Don figuring out his identity after his constructed world had fallen apart. He hoped that by the end, people would see the journey he went on this season to finding out who he is. By the end of this season, every piece of the life Don once had is either literally or figuratively gone: Anna Draper, Anna’s home in California, the Ossining home, Sterling Cooper. Don is moving on. Perhaps he will not prosper and will come to regret tossing off Faye who could have been the one person that might have saved him. But often times, the person who can save us is the person we overlook or the person we avoid because we don’t want to face ourselves. Don has faced many truths this season and has begun to resolve his split identity. Perhaps the season finale represents a step back in that regard, but Don is moving forward, he is continuing on. And once again, as in life, we have no idea what is going to happen.