I saw a social media posting today that got me thinking.
It included four hoops photos and a simple question: “Of these four NBA first-round playoff series currently knotted one game apiece (Nuggets-Spurs, Warriors-Clippers, 76ers-Nets, Raptors-Magic), which has the greatest chance of ending in upset?”
It was a good question to ponder sitting out a flight cancellation in rainy Dallas, and my immediate first reaction was to go with the Spurs. They have the pedigree that comes with all those championship banners, two legit stars in LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan, and they have Pop — Greg Popovich, the best coach left in the field (apologies to Steve Kerr and Boston’s “bloom off the rose,” ex-genius, Brad Stevens).
Not to mention, the Nuggets lurched into the playoffs playing so-so ball, and looked scared down the stretch in each of their round one games. Not entirely surprising for a Denver squad that probably outplayed their own expectations during this year’s outstanding regular season.
So go with the Spurs? Well I sure as hell am not going with the Clippers, despite their historic Game 2 comeback up in Oakland. I know, I know, the Dubs lost Boogie (more on him in a second), but the Clippers can’t hang here with their roster full of nobodies, and will probably drop the next three to the champs.
The Nets are the Eastern Conference’s version of the Clippers, and while my heart would love to see them take down the obnoxious Sixers (like the Michael Ray Richardson-led Nets model that upset Moses and his heavily favored 76ers back in 1984), they won’t win this series behind D’Angelo Russell and a bunch of role players. Sorry but not happening, even if Kenny Atkinson has worked miracles in Brooklyn this year, just like Lou Williams and Patrick Beverley won’t be able to figure out three more ways to beat the Dubs out west.
But yes, there is one more series to consider here. Helloooooo, Toronto.
Can anyone else hear the gears grinding up north of the border? I didn’t even think about this series heading into the playoffs, but the social media post earlier today forced me to step back. This is no ordinary 2-7 matchup.
First, the Raptors, in some sort of a bizarro-Spurs thing, boast their very own bizarro-pedigree — they seem to fold every year in the playoffs following a huge regular season.
Second, they weren’t really tested all year in putting together yet another 50-plus win ledger, comfortably settling into the conference two-hole early on behind the mighty Milwaukee Bucks (did I really just type that?), and hitting cruise control from there.
And their opponents? The mysterious Magic of Orlando? Hmmm…
Quick — name two players on the Magic? Gotcha, didn’t I? They’ve got a big center named Vucevic, if I’m not mistaken. And is Gary Payton’s son in the backcourt? He was traded? Really? For who? And he’s not even The Glove’s son? Huh…
Okay, quick again — who’s the Orlando head coach? That one took me a trip to google (Steve Clifford, of course).
But I do know that Orlando played shockingly well down the stretch, emerging out of the gaggle of uninteresting eighth-seed contenders to rise up and snatch the seven-seed out from under the Pistons, nearly sneaking by the Nets into the sixth.
So I’m taking the anonymous Magic as my upset candidate, mostly because I like to root for stereotypes of futility to live on, and this Raptors one is shaping up as a goodie (the recent titles by the Astros and Cubs in MLB are examples of my fun being spoiled). Yes, these are the things we Knicks fans come up with to cope with our own long runs of painful irrelevance.
And what do we make of Boogie Cousins’ quad tear and subsequent exit from the first playoff appearance of his career?
Well, there’s a quantitative and a qualitative aspect to this one.
From the qualitative side of things, losing Boogie takes away the lone likable figure on the Warriors roster. Think about it. Steph Curry is 31 now, and no longer the undersized kid taking down LeBron in a David versus Goliath kind of way. Yes, by all accounts Steph is a great teammate and unquestioned future Hall of Famer, but the likability meter is way down for Curry outside the Bay Area. And Klay Thompson, for all his class and excellence, really isn’t likable either, is he? It’s not that Klay isn’t likable, he’s just…neither.
Kevin Durant and Draymond Green? Hahahaha… Nope, Boogie was the only guy to relate to if you aren’t a Bay Area Dubs fan. I was legitimately bummed when the big guy went down, but perhaps more tellingly, even AtticBride was saddened to see him limping off the floor.
(SportsAttic Note: for those of you who missed AtticBride’s appearance as Guest Prognosticator on NFL Six Picks back in December, she is a solid sports fan, knows most of the Warriors roster by osmosis living out in the Bay Area, and her opinions are usually on target when it comes to likability. And AtticBride loves Boogie Cousins.)
The exuberance of Boogie finally getting to be part of a real team, where he could showcase his broad array of skills on a nightly basis, has made a positive impression on all hoops fans, Bay Area and elsewhere. Besides, who can resist the backstory of his painstaking rehab from an achilles tear that could have ended his career, then gambling on himself by taking a one-year deal when shunned by the rest of the league, only to be vilified for his decision to join the two-time champs by fans and the press. Yup, we’ll miss you Boogie.
And in other words, it just got much easier for the rest of the world to root against the Warriors as they go for their three-peat.
Quantitatively speaking, in the playoffs having a low post presence takes on added significance, and as delightful as it is to see Andrew Bogut back in the starting lineup for the Dubs (over/under on how many games until he starts his first fight with a borderline dirty pick? Two), Cousins going down is a huge blow. You don’t just replace 15 points and 10 boards a night from your starting center. And with Green showing signs of slippage, Steph’s 31-year-old feet having to endure another playoff grind, and Steve Kerr seeming just a tad annoyed at this year’s borderline whiny culture? Another Dubs title is far from a lock.
Are the Warriors still the favorite to earn their three-peat? Absolutely. Are fans in Houston and throughout the east quietly celebrating this injury? Uh huh.
Speaking of long runs of futility and KD’s pending departure from the Warriors universe, I’d like to give SportsAttic Nation a glimpse into the tortured mind of a fan of the New York Knickerbockers.
If you pay attention to the NBA, by now you are probably at least somewhat familiar with the fact that the Knicks cleared all kind of salary cap space this season in order to sign up to two superstar free agents over the summer. Add to that the fourteen percent chance the Knicks have to see the bouncing ping pong ball lottery known as the NBA Draft go their way, clearing the decks for them to select Zion Williamson with the first pick in this June’s draft, and it is an exciting time of optimism for the franchise that hasn’t won a title since the 1972-73 season.
However, there is one small problem festering within all this celebratory drum banging — they remain the Knicks. Possessors of dreadful karma (some might say the curse of the Patrick Ewing lottery score of 1985), a worst in class owner in James Dolan, and an inept front office currently acting as though all the above-referenced fortuitous circumstances are stone-cold locks to change the New York basketball club’s fortunes.
In fact, in what to most rationally superstitious observers was an absurd attempt to jinx all of these possible positive outcomes, club President Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry decided to pen a letter to season ticket holders. In their letter, the duo who just gave us one of the worst basketball products of all-time, boasted of their cap space and intent to spend and sign their way to major success this summer.
They even had the audacity to declare that their high draft standing will bring another (yes, they said “another” — makes one wonder if they’ve ever really watched Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina stink up the MSG floor) future superstar into the fold (again, this high pick was “earned” by their worst-in-franchise-history 17-65 mark posted during the 2018-19 campaign).
So here’s what one Knicks fan anticipates heading our way amidst all this optimism and elation over how “the times they are a changing”:
*The Draft — only the Knicks could finally lose their way to the worst record in the entire league in a year where that doesn’t guarantee them the greatest percentage chance of winning the draft lottery. In fact, if things don’t go their way when the hot air machine starts blowing the ping pong balls around in a few weeks, the Knicks could actually drop as low as fifth in a draft considered thin after the first three selections. Yup, pencil us in at number five, and maybe we can pick another “project” only Mills and Perry can see the potential in.
*Free Agency — just because you have lots of cap space doesn’t mean players actually want to play for you. Let’s think about KD for a second. Most folks believe he will choose between New York and the Los Angeles Clippers this summer (assuming he leaves Golden State). Both teams have the cap space to give him a max deal, so there is no monetary edge either way. Both New York and California are high income tax states, so there’s no geographic edge along the lines of a Florida or Texas.
The Clips offer a hip, tech-savvy billionaire as owner, who has put together an organization that has somehow remained competitive and entertaining during a roster tear down. And the Clippers will compete for dominance of Los Angeles against a wheezing LBJ and a Lakers franchise wrought in dysfunction nearly to the gold-standard level of the Knicks.
The Knicks? They offer a billionaire owner, too, but the comparisons end there. The NBA is like a club among its superstars, and do you really think word isn’t out about what a nightmare it would be to touch anything remotely related to James Dolan? Yeah, but KD’s dad is a Knicks fan, you say? C’mon, really? Do you truly believe Papa Durant’s rooting interests will swing this one? And we haven’t even touched on weather yet. See you in L.A., KD.
Okay, but we can still go get Kyrie Irving, right?
First of all, do we even want him? Yes, he’s a supremely talented player, but also one shaping up as a locker room nightmare with an injury history. Most people cast their blame toward Irving when attempting to explain the Celtics struggles in living up to their talent potential this season. Yeah, he’s from New Jersey and has indicated he would like to play in New York. Doesn’t mean he will, though, and there’s still that Dolan thing. The guess here is he remains a Celtic and tortures us with brilliance for the next five to seven years of his max deal.
Klay Thompson? Next. Klay’s not signing up to be the savior of a sunken ship. And oh yeah, have we mentioned that the Knicks owner is a pariah who will scare quality individuals away? I see Klay resigning with the Dubs, and if he does depart the Bay, look for him to use that silky jumper of his to clear space on the floor for King James down in L.A.
So who do the Knicks sign? As a tortured Knicks fan accustomed to consolation prizes that will be spun as the best thing to ever happen in the great metropolis, I see New York native Kemba Walker coming home on an insanely overpriced, long-term deal. This is nothing against Kemba, who has carved out a much better career than I expected, in the relative anonymity of Charlotte of all places, but it is absolutely consistent with how things go when you are a Knicks fan.
And that’s not all. If history is our guide, we won’t be getting the Charlotte-version Kemba Walker, who puts up twenty-plus points a night in highlight reel fashion. No, we’ll be getting some sort of beaten down Kemba, who struggles to get his shots while surrounded by a cadre of young knuckleheads like Kevin Knox and Dennis Smith on this tragically constructed New York roster. By year two of his time in the city, Walker will begin to resemble the Rolando Blackman we acquired from Dallas back in the ’90’s. A backcourt star who was able to score at will — until he laced them up for the New York Basketball Knickerbockers.
Mark it down — number five pick in the draft, crickets from the free agent headliners, panic as KD and Klay move down to SoCal and Kyrie remains a Celtic, followed by a desperate lunge at the next best name available.
But Mills, Perry and the always optimistic Coach Fiz will still crow about being on the right track when the Knicks improve all the way to a 23-59 record in 2019-20.
That, my friends, is how the mind of a Knicks fan works (and I don’t even need to insert “long-suffering” anymore).