Synthesizer Guide Book on Fire

Anyone who reads this blog has probably figured out that we ripped off our post format from FreeDarko. That decision was mostly grounded in homage; we think it's one of the best sites on the internet. But the homage carries value beyond the respect we have for the blog. Quite simply, their format denotes a particular way of writing about basketball, and, in most of our posts, we've tried to use that intellectual, freewheeling approach.

So I announce with great pleasure that, beginning Wednesday or Thursday, we will start writing somewhat regularly for FreeDarko. This is a huge honor, obviously, and we could not be more excited. Given the respect we have for the site, we can only hope we don't screw anything up too horribly. Much thanks to everyone at FD, of course.

Some of you might be wondering what this announcement means for Plissken. Let me be frank: this blog is still very much a functioning website, but this new gig will obviously funnel some of our resources away from here. Things shouldn't change too drastically, though, and the good news is that I highly doubt many readers of our site don't check out FD on a regular basis. (If you don't, then shame on you.) Plus, at the risk of giving too much away, Big Plissken Announcement #2 will address this concern.

If you're visiting our site for the first time, welcome. As I said up top, we write somewhat heady posts about anything related to basketball. We also have an unnatural obsession with Marco Belinelli, and for some reason I write more posts about mascots than any sane man should. I hope you like the site and come back often.

Other brief, less exciting news:

- The fine folks at We Rite Goode invited us to be a part of their NBA preview, which solicited input from a great number of excellent writers hailing from all areas of Blogburgh. Our individual previews of the Warriors (me) and Lakers (Carter) are not yet up, but they have posted this fine introductory piece that details everyone's record predictions. They will be updating this entire week -- highly recommended. I'm sure we'll link our bits here when they go up, because we are whores.

- Speaking of NBA previews, we're going to write one within the week. I know that makes us significantly late to the preview-writing game, but I don't think it will be too much of a problem. We're trying to do something different, so groove on the idea of what that might be while you wait.


Doing the Knowledge

First off, apologies for the shitty posting record over the last few weeks. Transitional time, blah blah blah, yada yada yada, excuse excuse excuse. We’ll do our best to be better. At any rate, the two big announcements I talked about should go into effect within the next week.

This news story is fairly old by now, but you may have heard that Brook Lopez, Stanford forward and one half of the Lopez Twins, was declared academically ineligible and then received an indefinite suspension for allegedly missing classes and a practice. Having some inside knowledge of the situation, I know that this particular incident doesn’t need much analysis: Brook simply didn’t try hard enough to do what he needed to do to stay eligible. There’s no lack of institutional control – it’s all about effort.

Frankly, the most interesting part of his ineligibility is that it happened at Stanford. At the risk of sounding like an arrogant alumnus, admissions standards are so high for athletes that all players are supposed to be self-motivated and ready to navigate a school that doesn’t coddle its players as much as other schools tend to. (Wow, that definitely made me sound arrogant.) Brook stopped efforting, and his work suffered for it.

One way of looking at his laziness is to say that Brook Lopez is headed to the NBA at the end of the year and therefore didn’t need to try – if he wanted to get drafted – and that would be exactly right. But it’s also easy to use that piece of information to argue that NCAA players should be paid, and that’s where things get more complicated.

The argument goes something like this: Brook’s situation shows that NCAA players are primarily using college for sports and couldn’t care less about school. At the same time, the schools exploit these players for money, so why not let these young men get paid for their exploits.

Well, for starters, they do get paid, and it’s in the form of a scholarship. Granted, some players don’t use that academics, but I think it’s a mistake to say that the majority use college for nothing more than sports, girls, and drugs. The fact of the matter is that not that many athletes end up playing professionally. Even if they don’t get much out of their education, college still provides them with the connections that could very well guarantee jobs and respect for years.

However, that explanation doesn’t kill the argument that these athletes aren’t using college for the education. Some do, certainly, but no more than a handful of scholarship players could be said to play college athletics for something other than the athletics; on the face of it, they want to play. But if they’re using college for sports, why do we choose to think of athletic programs as schools instead of glorified versions of the IMG Academy? Granted, the schools make a ton of money off of these players, but I’m not sure the players don’t earn back their per capita contribution to that income when they move on.

Whether college athletes use their schools for athletic development or simply for future connections, it would be a gross mistake to say they’re not getting something out of school roughly commensurate to what they give to that school. Paying players may seem like a simple solution to the issue of academically-lazy athletes, but that’s only the case if we insist on pretending that they’re all at school for the education. Many of Brook Lopez’s teammates want to learn, yes, yet there’s also Brook Lopez. And the system already accounts for him in full.


That's How We Do Here

This week saw two unbelievably amazing Warriors-related videos come our way, and it's quite simply my duty to bring them to you.

First, we have this video of Baron, Stephen Jackson, and Al Harrington dancing to Soulja Boy Tellem. Shoals gave as good a take on the dancing as possible over at FD, saying that "The dance has become a tic, a comforting gesture, a stance." In the comments of that post, rebar makes an excellent point on the non-Soulja part of the video, explaining that Baron has become a combination of seriousness and goofiness that has before now been associated primarily with Agent Zero. Honestly, I don't have much to add to this one -- I just think it needs to be seen by everyone and hope I've touched someone's life.

Henry Abbott put this video up on TrueHoop the other day, but I think the link died, so I'm doing my part here. I really can't discuss this one rationally, so I'll do my best in bullet form:
  • Andris talks about horseshoes like it's a great American pastime. I think I've played it once or twice.
  • Why are they playing horseshoes in the first place? They couldn't just have a roundtable or video game battle?
  • Andris appears to be hosting the game. Apparently they don't put the rookies in the classy part of the resort.
  • The music and video quality makes me think they filmed this one in 1986.
  • Andris: "Marco's on fire." Get used to that one.
  • The Andris narration is fantastic. Sign him up for an audiobook.
  • Kosta Perovic appears to be the best at this game, which makes me think he has no chance of being a serviceable NBA player.
  • Andris: "See, me and Kosta, that's how we do here." I could not have said it better myself.
These videos both make one thing clear: I am very lucky to root for this team.


Light to No Coma

We've been pretty poor about posting lately, and for that I apologize. Sadly, this is not a real post, but I did think it important to let people know that we're alive and thinking about basketball. Blame literary theory, if you want a reason for my relative absence. (Carter will have to come up with his own excuse.)

Anyway, Plissken is far from dead; if anything, these next few days/weeks will be a period of great growth for us. We'll be making the two biggest announcements in the short history of our site soon. Believe me when I say that these bits of news are both very important and that we could not be more excited about the prospects that both entail. Unfortunately, I can't go into detail now, but you'll know soon enough.

Have no fear -- we'll be back with real posts shortly. My first one will probably be about the unfortunate Brook Lopez situation, if you want something to look forward to.


Bloggin' to the Oldies: Rebirth of Slick

Now that real basketball has up started again (sort of), you might think that resorting to a Bloggin' to the Oldies is unnecessary, but talk of Kobe modifying his role has me reminiscing back to a pivotal moment in Kobe lore: Game 4 of the 2000 NBA Finals against the Indiana Pacers (box score).

Kobe had missed Game 3 and most of Game 2 with a sprained ankle, which was clearly still bothering him on June 14th. For most of regulation, he over-relied on his jump shot, fouled instead of moving his feet on D, and committed some pretty dumb turnovers. He still managed to find ways to help his team, because even at age 21 and feeling gimpy, he was still Kobe Bryant. But as far as the Kobe narrative is concerned, the first 51 minutes are only really relevant for the contrast they provide with the final 2.

Up 3 with a couple minutes left to go in the extra period, Shaq (and his 36 points and 21 boards) fouls out. Kobe gives a cocky grin and drills one over Reggie. Then pulls one of the more swagtastic moves ever, with the "I got this. Keep your cool" gesture that has become synonymous with rising to the occasion. Then proceeds to calmly drill another long 2 over Mark Jackson (shown above) before getting the game-winning tip with 6 seconds to go, putting the Pacers down 3-1.

Revisiting that sequence (which, thanks to the YouTube gods, you can do here), what strikes me most is how stoked Kobe appears that Shaq has fouled out. Phil, Shaq himself, and, most especially, John Salley? All pretty stunned and troubled by the development. Kobe? From the moment the ball's in his hand, clearly relishing the opportunity. I feel like the way this passage of NBA history has generally been interpreted is along similar lines as the "Magic, Starting Center" game: a young player put in a difficult situation, rising to the challenge, and coming up big when it counted most. Comparing the two though, while they were both plenty cocky, Magic at least was a willing participant in the savior-by-circumstance plotline; for Kareem's sake at least, he portrayed himself as thrust into a tough situation and forced to make the best of it. Perhaps I'm projecting too much here, but Kobe's big moment doesn't appear tinged with any of the, "This is a rough spot, but we're going to suck it up and overcome it" attitude that I think fans at the time and since have assumed had to have been underlying the situation.

To be clear, I by no means intend this as a knock on Kobe, nor am I trying to make any bold claims about the Shaq-Kobe dynamic that eventually led to the downfall. I'm strictly interested in this from the perspective of what it says about Kobe and his approach to the game. Even tracing back to his initial championship, it was clear that he was a cold-blooded killer who was dying to take over the game when it counts, without interference. Even losing in Tuesday's preseason game proved to be too much for him to stay confined to the facilitator role when he started jacking up shots in a desperate attempt to one-up Kelenna Azubuike in the 3rd quarter. Bottom line: Kobe might be able to sublimate his instincts for long stretches, but when it comes down to it he will always want to do the jugular-stomping himself, regardless of the circumstance.

While Kobe's maturation may have been the main motivation for revisiting this game, I was also interested if I could glean any insight about Austin Croshere and Derek Fisher's signings to our respective teams. Let me be the first to say: that Austin Croshere can play. How no one gave him a massive deal based exclusively on this playoff series is beyond me. I've already expressed how happy I am about the Fisher signing, but I guess it's worth noting that at age 25 he was a liability guarding Jackson and had to be replaced by the 36-year-old Brian Shaw. Now 33, he'll still be an upgrade from Smush for charges drawn alone, but Lakers fans (myself included) need to exercise caution in nostalgically embellishing his defensive prowess.

Also, I've come to the conclusion that this Pacers team is one of the more underhated teams of all time. I feel like they deserve so much more hatred than they seem to have attracted. Maybe they've been spared eternal scorn because a lot of their heroics came at the expense of the Knicks, but Reggie single-handedly should have made this team one of the most rooted-against teams of the era. What I don't understand, I've heard refs reference "pulling a Reggie," so they were clearly aware of his bullshit, yet he still was rewarded for creating contact in a way that I've never seen prior or since. Mark Jackson, while extremely solid in pretty much every way, would waste half the shot clock every other possession backing people down. Not exciting to watch. Then there's my, perhaps irrational, despise for Rik Smits, who I choose to blame for the devolution of the big man. For some reason I feel like I'd be more forgiving of his brand of oafishness had he been Eastern European rather than Western, but would need someone like Padraig to explain why I might make that distinction. (side note to Pacers fans: having rooted for this team does not prove that you aren't racist)

In other news, I've decided to informally dub the summer of '07 as the Summer of Sam Perkins. First he popped up in a nostalgic Forum Blue & Gold post, then at the always hilarious Blowtorch, before hitting the big time at True Hoop. To top it all off, I think he's showed up in more of NBAtv's "Greatest Games" this summer than any player save Jordan or Pippen. We've watched him with the Lakers, Sonics, and now Pacers, across a 10-year span, pretty much nailing clutch shots regardless of hair style, uniform, or body fat.

At some point later this week look out for my thoughts on what Glen Rice's role on this Laker team might inform us about this year's Celtics.


Fear of a Black Planet

Today's news that the Indiana Pacers consciously skew their marketing away from "hip-hop culture" to appease and market to their fanbase (via TrueHoop) brings up some very interesting points about race, Middle America, and white men's relationships to superathletic basketball-playing black men. While I don't want to paint all Indianans as young American kids just doing the best racist things they can, I do think there's a strong racial component to this story, and it deserves full attention.

Powered by AOL Video

(I desperately wanted to use this version of the video, but Universal won't let me embed from YouTube.)

Unfortunately, you're not going to find that analysis here. If this story tells us anything, it's that the "they just wanted white guys" half-jokes that followed last winter's Warriors trade are probably more than just unhinged speculation. If that's the case, then we can assume that it can happen again. Now, I'm not fan of racism in any form -- seriously, some of my best friends are black -- but I am always for trades that bring underappreciated players to more hospitable environments. With that in mind, here's a look at some potential racism-motivated trades that could come up over the course of this season.

Indiana Pacers
Who says lightning never strikes the same place twice?
Trade Proposal: Jermaine O'Neal and Jamaal Tinsley to the Lakers for Chris Mihm and Coby Karl.
Analysis: O'Neal and Tinsley are relics from the Palace Brawl era, a time when rap music blared through the Conseco Fieldhouse locker room and the Pacers actually won playoff games. ... Mihm is injury-prone, but at least he doesn't miss games due to suspension. ... Coby Karl isn't just white -- put him in a suit and he actually looks like your garden-variety Pacers season-ticket holder. If that doesn't scream "face of the franchise," I don't know what does. Get him in those Jim O'Brien ads, stat.

Boston Celtics
Sure, Boston's made great strides in terms of racial relations, but that could all come crashing down the minute the Three-Leaf Clover (I am proclaiming this to be the nickname) starts redefining the term "Black Irish."
Trade Proposal #1: Kevin Garnett to the Warriors for Austin Croshere.
Analysis: Everyone loves Garnett now, but what'll happen the first time he shows off his trademark intensity and yells at Brian Scalabrine? ... Croshere went to Providence and only shoots jumpers, so he should be just what the doctor of eugenics ordered.
Trade Proposal #2: Ray Allen to the SuperSonics for Wally Szczerbiak.
Analysis: Yeah, this trade already happened, but Ainge will likely call backsies on Sam Presti the minute the Celtics fanbase remembers that Ray was the lead character -- who slept with white women, no less -- in a Spike Lee movie.
Trade Proposal #3: Paul Pierce to the Clippers for Paul Davis and Dan Dickau.
Analysis: The Truth is a Boston mainstay, but there's always the chance that he'll get stabbed again. Definitely can't have that element wandering around Newbury Street on weekends. ... Dan Dickau has a cheerleader for a wife, and you can't get more impressive than that. ... Paul Davis is tall and white, in case you were unfamiliar with him.

New Orleans Hornets
New Orleans has a host of racial issues (brilliantly shown in FOX's new supersmash formulaic cop drama K-Ville!!!), although it's unclear to this outsider if those issues arise from the city's internal issues or national problems related to Hurricane Katrina. Don't worry, though, because this trade will work it all out.
Trade Proposal: Chris Paul to the Wizards for Darius Songaila.
Analysis: Here's how I see this one playing out: The Hornets start the year in a funk; ticket sales are low, the team loses, general discontent and questions about whether or not the team can survive in New Orleans abound, and Chris Paul remarks that "David Stern doesn't care about black people." Big Ernie Grunfeld calls up Jeff Bower, demands Chris Paul in exchange for five truckloads of cash and a solid Euro who won't complain. Bower says sure, sends CP3 on a plane to DC an hour later. Songaila arrives a week late.

Memphis Grizzlies
Memphis has a history of great blues and solid rap, but it's still in Tennessee, so it's only a matter of time before a bunch of guys named Jim Bob Cooter storm the Grizz front office.
Trade Proposal: Rudy Gay and Hakim Warrick to the Heat for Chris Quinn and Michael Doleac.
Nothing's more stereotypically "hip hop" on the basketball court than a 6-8 uberathletic swingman, so why not trade both? ... Quinn and Doleac went to the two whitest colleges around (Notre Dame and Utah, respectively) other than Bob Jones University and BYU, so you know there's nothing to hate there.

Sacramento Kings
Sacto isn't the most backwards place on the planet, but it also has lots of cows, and lord knows there's a positive correlation between "amount of cows" and "amount of racists."
Trade Proposal: Ron Artest to the Knicks for David Lee.
Analysis: We all know Isiah doesn't care about this white person, and he's always up for bringing on another questionable personality who can play forward or point guard (maybe Ron-Ron can even play point forward!). ... The Kings get Max Weber's personal wet dream, a guy who'll work hard and deserves more playing time than what he gets in New York. (Note: This one is not a joke.)


Ringleader of the Tormentors

The Warriors announced their captains today, and, as you've probably heard by now, Stephen Jackson, Matt Barnes, and Baron Davis were the choices. As expected, there has been outcry against the Jackson choice, with Epic Carnival, Adonal Obsessed, Three Idiots on Sports, and Mavs Moneyball registering complaints. While my opinion is obviously biased because I'm a big Warriors fan, I think Jackson is a perfectly suitable, if unconvential, selection. Although the man certainly has some issues, Jackson's a phenomenal teammate, a proven player in the clutch, and a symbol of what this Warriors team is all about. He might not be the most upright citizen, but that doesn't mean he's not the best person to lead a team into a tough game in the playoffs.

First off, picking captains is not a public relations move. It's not a contest to see who gives the best press conferences or gets in the least trouble. Captains exist to lead their teammates in everything basketball-related, and that's pretty much it. Yes, to a certain extent, every announcement is PR-related, but at some point basketball function has to outweigh those concerns. I think that's exactly the case here.

Jackson's teammates have always identified him as a phenomenal guy in the locker room and on the court. He's proven beyond the shadow of a doubt (well, too much) that he'll back a teammate up if that person gets into trouble, earning the respect of anyone that wears his same uniform. It's extremely telling that a team as Right Way as the Spurs valued (and continues to value) his contribution to their championship team as much as they did. No less an unimpeachable source than Tim Duncan has claimed that Jackson is the "ultimate teammate", so it's not like this is something specific to the Warriors and Ron Artest. Simply put, Stephen Jackson is somebody that everyone feels perfectly comfortable going to war with.

Last postseason (and many postseasons before that), he also made it clear that he won't back down against a presumably superior opponent. Without Stephen Jackson around to get in the Mavs' faces and convince the younger players that the Warriors could win, there's simply no way that Golden State wins that series, although Baron would have kept it close just by the pure will of his balls. If a guy's an emotional leader and backs up his teammates, why shouldn't he be a captain?

There's also the issue of team identity, a point that Shoals argued in this pro-Jackson Fanhouse piece. The mark of insanity and on-the-edgeness are things that defined this team last year, so it makes sense that the organization would want to buy into those qualities going forward. Granted, those usually aren't traits that hold up particularly well over time, but there's also never really been a situation where those kinds of players defined the team instead of hanging around the margins as effective sideshow attractions.

My one major concern is that this new role could actually rein him in too much. Any attempt to change Jackson's mindset, particularly one focused on setting a Right Way example, will make him something that he's unequivocally not. Jackson -- and, by extension, the rest of the team -- thrives off of insanity. Losing that edge could throw off the Warriors' entire operation.

When you get right down to it, though, I'm not even sure this decision merits the attention it's getting. The NBA is not high school, where players don't have experience leading and thus look to older players for tons of guidance. Most of these guys have been captains or leaders at some level; they really only need someone to show them the ropes and set a general tone. Jackson does all those things and more. Captains certainly matter in the NBA, but they're not essential to the success of a team.


If I Can Change, And You Can Change, Everybody Can Change

By now (you know, a day and a half later), the news of Andrei Kirilenko's English interview with KSL 5 of Salt Lake City is too old to print. However, instead of analyzing the greatness of quotes like "I want to burn on the floor," I'd like to take this post to commend AK for his tremendous analysis of the situation, to explain how I think this interview guards him against all relevant criticism of his trade demand, and to wildly predict that his comments represent a potentially huge step in how athletes approach their trade demands. His most important quotes have been reproduced elsewhere, but I've pasted them here for your pleasure and convenience:

"I don't know. I'm stuck in this situation. ... I just want him to help me again and help the team."

"I don't want to be an anchor for the team. ... Right now, I feel like an anchor, game-wise and money-wise. I want Jazz to be as happy as possible."

"[Jerry Sloan's] one of the best coaches in the world... It seems like I'm on a different page with the coach."

"Sometimes we don't know how to help each other."

"He is who he is. I don't want to change him. He's made himself as a coach like this. I want to wish him the best and success as a coach."

"I never said I want to be first option on the team. ... I think Deron, I think Carlos [Boozer], I think Memo [Okur], even Matt [Harpring], I think they, even more than me, are valuable offensively. I'm ready for that. But I'm not ready to be ignored at all."

To a certain extent, his reasoning here resembles that of a boyfriend or girlfriend who, after saying some nasty things at the beginning of a fight/breakup, reverses course and tries the "it's not you, it's me" approach with the hope of smoothing things over in the relationship's last moments. I don't doubt that AK harbors some of these feelings, but he seems too sincere for that to be his primary intent.

What impresses me most about these comments is that Kirilenko has looked at this situation from all sides; in a way, he wrote the definitive take on his own trade demand, rendering all other accounts superfluous. He understands that he has limited skills, but he knows that he's pretty damn good at what he does and can help another team (i.e. one that would use him with more attention to his skills) immensely. Consequently, he still has at least trade value, and the Jazz could probably get some nice pieces in return. It's extremely rare for a professional athlete -- or, more accurately, a really good professional athlete -- to take stock of his talents and limitations so honestly. That self-awareness necessarily blunts the claims that he's being arrogant and selfish. Essentially, he's now the anti-Drago.

AK's explanation of his relationship with Sloan is just as interesting in that it shows just how willing he is to make concessions to someone with whom he has an awful working relationship. By admitting that Sloan is a legendary coach -- and this is the really important part -- who still commands a great deal of respect and did a great job with last year's team, Kirilenko presents this disagreement as an issue of poor fit and respectful philosophical debate, not of macho posturing and O'Reilly Factor-style argument. Both sides retain their good points, leading to a friendly split and at least moderately happy ending for both sides.

While I think AK's tactics here are incredibly useful, he's still open to certain kinds of criticism. For instance, he still demanded a trade, so anyone who decries a player for lack of loyalty would have to apply that critique in this case. In this way, Shoals's recent point about the double standard in reaction to trade demands still holds. However, if you like to look at both sides of the issue and see how that player came to that decision -- if you can't tell, that's what I prefer -- then I don't think there's much of importance that can be thrown back in Kirilenko's face here.

But I don't want to stop with just AK's situation, because I think this interview has implications for future trade demands. If more players would take this path with the media, I think we'd see far fewer knee-jerk reactions of the "he's just being disloyal" sort. Not only would that lead to better situations for the players and teams involved, but media discussion would necessarily focus on the nuances of each case in addition to the generalities. It's probably unrealistic to expect extremely talented people to criticize themselves in an open forum on a regular basis, but some progress seems possible.

Before I go, a bit of important news: true Plissken OG commenter Ben Q. Rock (the archives say he commented twice on our first-ever substantive post) has taken his excellent Orlando Magic blog Third Quarter Collapse over to the collective at SB Nation. Anyone with even a passing interest in the NBA (so, you know, everyone reading this right now) should check it out. Congrats to Ben on the new, well-deserved gig.


No Scissors In Bed

If you listen to most pundits, the big news from lakers' media day Monday was that Kobe's ready to play, but the real story of the Lakers' media day for me was unquestionably the physical changes Bynum's gone through since we last saw him in May. Namely, that his 'stache seems two shades thicker and his voice has dropped at least an octave. Yer growns up and yer growns up and yer growns up. The fact that he also looks freakishly thicker in a Howardesque way is exciting, too. His focus on conditioning this summer (via FB&G) is evident and, muscle strain aside, looks very promising. However, the key from my point of view has to be the facial hair. To get a better view you'll probably have to watch the Bucher video linked up top, if you can tolerate the sensationalist voiceover long enough to get to it.

Apparently I wasn't the only one keenly aware of the some of the Lakers' follicular changes, because Elie Seckbach was on the scene to report:

A few things that are particularly relevant from the clip:

Lamar Odom is under the impression that his barber thinks he's going to have an All-Star season. I'm of the opinion that his barber thinks he might secretly be a 12-year-old girl. I think there might be a kitten on the other side.

Also, Kwame shaved (rumor has it head-to-toe; whatever it takes in a contract year). All kidding aside, though, he does imply in the video that he lost the braids because he's apparently "a new player," which has me cautiously excited. Maybe it's naive of me to think that someone with the worst hands of any NBA player I've ever seen can have a breakout year in his 7th season in the league, but it's worth keeping an eye on, at the very least.

Finally, the most important non-Bynum related news from my standpoint: Sasha Vujacic, apparently not to be outdone by Robbie Cowgill, has really brought the whole Johnny look to a new level of perfection. Everyone guard your pipe this year.