January 28, 2010

So Great, Faux Great

I'm currently reading through a fantastic book by Bill Simmons that is subtly titled "The Book of Basketball". The book is a 700-page epic that delves into nearly everything one could ever want to know about the history of the NBA/ABA. A good portion of the book is dedicated to ranking the top 96 players of all-time. As I was making my way through this list, I was struck by how much our culture is obsessed with ranking "greatness". What's more, we have a nearly insatiable desire to experience greatness first-hand. As Bill gave accounts of the careers of people like Elgin Baylor and Julius Erving, there was a big part of me that couldn't resist wishing that I had the opportunity to watch those guys in their prime. What would it have been like to have been a basketball fan in the mid-50s and see Elgin come in and completely transform the game (he was apparently the first player to play consistently "above-the-rim" and brought about the first metamorphous of basketball into the game we know today) or to have been one of the few people with the privilege of watching Dr. J take the art-form of basketball to a level no one had ever imagined while playing in the struggling ABA in the '70s?

I had a similar thought last year when I read "The Breaks of the Game" by David Halberstam. In "Breaks" Halberstam chronicles the rise and fall of the '77-'78 Blazers. That book reads like a tragedy, with the protagonist being a once-in-a-lifetime basketball team that reached unimaginable heights by playing the game in its purest form, when everything suddenly fell apart and that "lightning-in-a-bottle" team was never the same.

[Quick Tangent: "Breaks" made Bobby Gross win the award for my "favourite-player-who-I've-never-seen-play-and-probably-never-will". Everything about his game sounded wonderful and encompassed everything I would ever want to be as a basketball player. Here's how Halberstam described him: He was the best passer on the team and his sense of movement, of when to cut and go against the flow in order to create opportunities, not so much for himself but for his teammates, was crucial to the system. It was more often than not Gross's movement and passing, a connection between the guards and the slower big men, which created the slight angle of advantage that led to a basket. In was an anticipatory sense, absolutely instinctive, something difficult to teach. Gross had it. Few others did. Gross could sense the flow of the play towards one side of the court and, even as the ball was moving that way, he could cut in the other direction. Then, if the ball came to him, the defense had to shift radically to catch up with the ball. Because of his movement and sense of angles, it meant that the defense was often a split second behind (Portland's coach Jack) Ramsay's offense. Wow... Halberstam was an incredible writer. I apologize that you have to experience that and go back to my comparatively "hackish" prose.]

"Breaks" gave me that same sense of missing out... like my life would have somehow been more complete if I had been around to witness those Blazers in action. It's admittedly a little silly, but there does seem to be this innate sense within human-kind and, perhaps, specifically in our society that draws us to the idea of greatness; not necessarily within ourselves, but we definitely desire to be surrounded by it. This clearly is not a desire that's confined to sports, but that does seem to be one of the areas where it is the most clearly visible. We are sublimely obsessed in our society with ranking things (I'm absolutely guilty of this; I love ranking my favourite albums/songs every year... and if the Colts win the Super Bowl next week and you don't think I'm going to write a hyperbolic blog post proclaiming them the greatest football team ever, than you don't know me). How many "best of the decade" lists did you see in December? Every time I log out of my Hotmail account, MSN has a new ranking of "Best Dressed" or "Worst Celebrity Drivers" or "Top 10 Things You Shouldn't Say to Your Pregnant Wife" or whatever. In general, our society eats this stuff up. What's crazy is that now we don't even wait for events to end before we start ranking them. I'm sure people have already tried to put George W. Bush's or even Obama's presidency into "perspective" historically. Isn't that something history is supposed to sort out on its own... after the effects of their leadership can be accurately analyzed? Simmons makes a note in "The Book of Basketball" about how ridiculous it is to try and rank LeBron James rationally right now (he's less than halfway into his career at this point), but that didn't stop him from including LeBron (and Wade, and CP3, and Dwight Howard) in his rankings. I heard recently that the 2010 Ford Fusion was named Motor Trend's 2010 Car of the Year... on November 17, 2009. That's right, 44 days before the year 2010 even began. This stuff is getting out of control, right?

I guess we can't really know for sure if this kind of stuff went on in the past, but I'm not convinced it's merely a recent phenomenon. I mean, there was a dude named Alexander the Great. Julius Caesar and the Pharaohs considered themselves to be deities. Stories of people like William Wallace, Joan of Arc, and Genghis Khan have endured through centuries. So I guess our obsession with greatness is nothing new, although it is perhaps a bit overzealous nowadays.

To bring my ramblings full circle, reading the aforementioned books caused me to think of the basketball greatness I have been fortunate enough to witness. Actually, let's step back for a moment (uh-oh, tangent alert!): some of you may wonder where my obsession with basketball came from... I have to admit that it's a little strange for a skinny white kid from rural Ontario to have such an affinity for a historically urban game. I blame/credit my cousins Tyler and Cody Greene for this. They loved basketball from the time they were young and every time I went to their house I was bombarded with all things basketball; whether it was shooting around out in the street, hearing stories about games they attended, seeing all their Bulls memorabilia, or playing NBA Jam, going to Tyler and Cody's place was always an experience in basketball immersion. Eventually I started following the NBA just so I would have something to discuss with them when we got together (we definitely weren't going to connect on music... I once brought Jars of Clay's self-titled debut to show them because I was so excited about it... and they countered by making me listen to The Presidents of the United States of America... ugh!). Thankfully, our TV antenna in Arkona was able to access a few of the major American networks, so I would tune in on weekends and catch the NBA on NBC whenever I could. This was the mid-90s, and since Tyler and Cody already liked the Bulls (and my modus operandi as a kid (and maybe still) was to gravitate towards things that were not necessarily the popular choice), I fell in love with the Gary Payton / Shawn Kemp Supersonics. Maybe it's just because I was young, but I remember those teams being something special... great, if you will. Shawn Kemp is one of the true forgotten basketball superstars of the my lifetime; mainly because he threw his prime away so quickly... cocaine will do that to you. He was quite possibly the most vicious dunker ever (at least in the discussion with LeBron), and at 6'-10" with a 47" vertical, certainly one of the most dynamic. What's more, "Reign Man" has got to be one of the better basketball nicknames... definitely better than the generic T-Mac, D-Will, C-Webb stuff we hear all the time now. At the time, I liked GP mainly because he had a cool accent and was a legendary trash talker, but over time I've been able to appreciate his extraterrestrial court vision and tenacious defence. If you round those out with great shooters like Detlef Schremp and Hersey Hawkins and thrown in an overpaid, awkward white centre like Jim McIlvaine and you have yourself a memorable team. GP and Kemp and those Sonics helped me fall in love with the artistry of the game of basketball. It really is a beautiful sport. Unlike football, which I enjoy for the chess-like strategy of the game, basketball is really about beauty and the poetry of five men working together in perfect harmony on the court. Instances of the highest level of basketball are rare, even at the NBA level, and that's why I'll always remember those Sonics teams fondly. They reached their peak in the '95/'96 season when they faced a juggernaut Bulls team (the famous 72-10 squad) in the finals. Although they lost, they fought valiantly, and provided one of the top sports memories of my childhood: down 0-3 in the series with two more games in Seattle, Payton said in an interview that there was no way they were letting the Bulls celebrate on the Sonics' court. They won the next two games with Kemp going absolutely nuts and GP playing MJ as well as anyone ever did defensively. For whatever reason, I remember that moment as vividly as anything from that time in my life.

Anyway, the '95/'96 season also happened to the inaugural season of the Toronto Raptors, so as Shawn Kemp went off the deep end and that Sonics team fell started to decline, I slowly shifted my loyalties over to the "hometown" team. Suffice to say, I haven't rooted for another great team since that time. As I was thinking about all this, it dawned on me that perhaps that is the reason Toronto fans still boo Vince Carter every time he comes to town; Vince was Raptor fans' first (and only) chance to experience basketball at its highest level. During the '00/'01 season when Vince made the leap (winning the dunk contest, trading 50-point games with Iverson in the 2nd round of the playoffs, dunking over a 7'-2" French guy at the Olympics) we finally had the sense that we had the chance to be part of something special. Vince was knocking on the door of becoming the next Dr. J -- a transcendent offensive player who took the artistry of the game to new heights -- and we were all too eager to be brought along for the ride. I think it crushed us when it didn't pan out -- we watched as little injuries and apathy derailed his promising career -- and we eventually gave up the dream of being part of something uniquely special... something great.

So yeh, Raptor fans boo Vince because he's a sissy and because he quit on the team/city, but we really boo him because he got our hopes up, then crushed us... and it never really seemed to bother him the same way it bothered us. That's why I don't think the same thing (i.e., the bad blood) will happen if Chris Bosh leaves this summer. Bosh is very good, and it's been a pleasure to watch him play, but he doesn't hold the promise of being great. And greatness is what sports fans dream about... it's what keeps us watching game after game. So we'll be sad to see him go, but not devastated... and we'll probably keep booing Vince; all the while wondering about what might have been.

I guess that's it. I really had no sweeping social commentary with this entry, just some observations... basically an internal monologue that I decided to spill out into cyberspace. Maybe one day I'll investigate what drives our obsession with human greatness... is it a result of our inner God-consciousness or a perversion of pride/covetousness? Right now, I'm just going to turn on some House of Heroes, watch Peyton Manning highlights, and eat a bowl of Frosted Flakes.

Have a Great Day,

July 30, 2009

Death... and a Good Majority of His Friends

Happy "Marco Belinelli Day" everyone!

So... I think I've finally figured out the Coldplay thing. Um,
for those of you who aren't following (i.e., all of you), let me back up a bit; I've never taken to Coldplay the way the majority of my peer group has, and it's been a point of minor contention between me and some of my friends. In a nutshell, they have accused me of not liking Chris Martin & Co. simply because they're so popular, while I've steadfastly denied that and claimed that, "I just don't find their music all that interesting." Well today I had a bit of an epiphany. You see, I finally caved in and decided to put Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head on my iPod and give them a fair listen (I haven't purchased any new music in a long time, so I decided to raid my wife's CD collection). Before today, I had never heard either of those two albums in their entirety... I had only experienced the unadulterated mediocrity of X & Y and the good -- but over-hyped -- Viva la Vida. Anyway, as I was listening to the aforementioned two albums, I think I came to a realization that my friends are right... at least partially. I think I would like Coldplay more if they were a less heralded band, but I still don't think I would love them... and that, in turn, is why I dislike them. I'm guessing you didn't follow that -- I'm sure it even makes sense -- so let's see if I can break it down more clearly. It occurred to me as I listened how Coldplay is quite similar to Travis; both are soft rock bands from the UK, both have one song that I would count among my all-time favourites ("Why Does It Always Rain on Me?" for Travis; "Trouble" for Coldplay) and a handful of other songs I really like (including "Side", "Happy to Hang Around", and "Flowers in the Window" for Travis; "Yellow", "The Scientist", and "Viva la Vida" for Coldplay). The big difference is that Coldplay is HUGE, and Travis is just Travis -- a mid-size band who's known to people who are serious about their "Brit Pop", but not universally. To me, that makes it fun to like Travis ("Let me tell you about this cool Scottish band I like..."), but the lack of any sense of discovery makes it not fun to like Coldplay ("Let me tell you about this band that just sold out a massive stadium tour..." -- it just doesn't work as well). If the tables were turned and Travis was huge, I'd probably like Coldplay more and like Travis less. Does that make sense?

That "sense of discovery" thing is part of my issue, but I still think there's a deeper reason why I've always resented Coldplay -- I don't like the fact that they're quite possibly going to be remembered as the defining band of our generation. Coldplay? Really!?!? As I just explained, I've been unfair in judgement of Coldplay in the past. They're really good at what they do, which is create simple, well-crafted pop songs. That's a great thing, but there's no way you can rationally argue that they've made the best music of the "aughts". Bands like Copeland, House of Heroes, and Thrice have been much more daring in pushing the artistic envelope, while maintaining (especially in Copeland's case) the same pop sensibilities Coldplay displays.

[Side tangent: I think another thing that annoys me about Coldplay is the way they can lead to this exchange when shopping at an HMV:

"Excuse me, do you have the new Copeland album?"

"Did you say Coldplay?"

"No Cope-land -- like the guy from The Police."

"Oh, OK, let me check. (pause) We've got one called 'Dressed Up and In Line'."

"No, that's their B-sides album, the new one is called 'You Are My Sunshine'."

"(pause) Sorry, I don't see that in our system."

Anyway, it's just a frustrating coincidence that the name of the best band of the decade is phonetically similar to the biggest band of the decade... also, it annoys me that HMV doesn't stock Copeland CDs more thoroughly.]

I know I'll (likely) never succeed at sufficiently educating the civilized world about the greatness of Copeland, HoH, and Thrice -- it won't stop me from trying, of course -- and as a result I'm having trouble reconciling the fact that someday little Ray-Ray (my future son) might come up to me and say... so what was it like to be around at the height of Coldplay's career. How do you answer that, "Umm... very OK?" I mean, this isn't like being around for The Beatles or Nirvana or even early Oasis. It'll be even worse when he first hears about Nickelback ("Really Dad, they were the most popular radio band in the early part of the millenium... why didn't you do anything to stop it?" -- I tried, Ray-Ray, I really tried).

To be fair, the Coldplay boys have definitely played their cards right and genuinely deserve the fame they've cultivated. For starters, they do a really good job of selecting singles. You'll notice that all their songs I mentioned as favourites of mine have been singles. I feel this is something that few bands do well nowadays, with Copeland being the worst offender (if I was telling somebody about Copeland, their singles are generally the last songs I'd use to showcase them). Also, from all accounts, Coldplay puts on a terrific live show, and I can tell just from little TV things I've seen that Chris Martin is one of those rare front men who seems to have mastered the everyman-charm-mixed-with-rock-star-charisma thing. Still, I feel like they somehow outgrew themselves and seem destined to be remembered as a better band than they actually are.

So... here's my proposal: can we all just agree that Radiohead was the most important band of our generation? I mean, they were commercially viable, yet they still reek of artistic integrity. They put out two or three albums that are all-time classics (I don't know The Bends as well as I should, so I'm giving it a maybe) and even tried their hand at revolutionizing the way music is distributed (the pay-what-you-want gimmick with In Rainbows). Most importantly, I could happily bounce little Ray-Ray on my knee while listening to Kid A and discussing how dissonance can be a viable musical tool if used in the right way.

Hmm... I really hope Ray-Ray likes music.

June 25, 2009

It's Getting Draft-y in Here

Hey Favourite Readers,

Tonight is one of my most anticipated nights of the year... no, it's not the night that Reg comes over and reads me a bedtime story... it's the NBA Draft! At first glance, it might not appear very exciting, but this night brings with it endless hope and possibility... and, more often then not (since I'm a Raptors fan), the chance to watch all that hope and possibility come crashing down around me. My good friend, Paul, and I have fond memories of throwing cushions around in his parents living room and discussing whether we should jump ship and become Nets fans after the Raptors drafted Charlie Villanueuva and Joey Graham ahead of Danny Granger a few years ago. Paul's not here with me this year... and I don't have cable, so I'm relegated to following the pick-by-pick draft recap on ESPN.com. Still, that's not going to stop me from sharing my draft night thoughts with all of you. The good news is that I should be relatively calm tonight as it doesn't look like the Raptors are going to make a colossal error this time around (I guess they could always surprise me and draft B.J. Mullens, or something). Regardless, I'm trying to keep my ripoff of Bill Simmons' patented "Draft Diary" column as subtle as possible, so rather than keeping a running diary of the draft's events, I'll settle for sharing some of my thoughts on each pick... let's see how long this can last. I'm betting that I can keep writing longer than you can keep reading. Hmmm... it doesn't look like there's any benefit to you for taking me up on that bet... aside from a juicy and insightful look into the draft thoughts of yours truly.

Pick No. 1 - Los Angeles Clippers
Selection: Blake Griffin (PF) Oklahoma

Thoughts: No surprise here... by all accounts Griffin is as close to a sure thing as there is, and he is far and away the best player in this draft class. I only watched 20 - 30 minutes of Blake Griffin playing in college, but in that short time it was pretty clear that he has all the tools to succeed in the NBA... a great body (some have called it one of the best NBA bodies since Karl Malone), big hands, a good sense of the game, and breath-taking athleticism for a guy his size. The wild-card here is that he has to play for the Clippers and you can just sense that something weird is going to happen and completely derail his career. In fact, I think you could say that the biggest loser in this year's draft are Blake Griffin's ACLs (I'm glad that I was able to be the 2,457th person to make that joke). Bill Simmons wrote an extremely thorough article about the Clippers snake-bitten history, and it's really staggering to see it laid out like that all in one place. Obviously I don't put much stoke in his idea that the franchise is cursed, but at the very least you have to admit that something fishy is going on with that team. For Griffin's sake, I hope all his major tendons and ligaments can hold out for four years until he's able to sign with another team.

Pick No. 2 - Memphis Grizzlies
Selection: Hasheem Thabeet (C) Connecticut

Thoughts: This has been the pick rumoured that Memphis would make for some time now... even though Ricky Rubio is clearly the second-best player in the draft. Before I talk about Thabeet, I want to say a little something: being a Raptors fan hasn't exactly been carrots and sugar-corn, but I can't even imagine being one of the poor souls that hopped aboard the Grizzly train back in 1995. This franchise has been terrible for so long and has had so little happen to even let the fans get excited about... at least us Raptors followers got to enjoy the Vince Carter era, not to mention being witness to the career of Alvin Williams. What's more, the team was never really given the chance to get off the ground in Vancouver and was sadly relocated to Memphis. I guess they did make the playoffs three straight years in the Pau Gasol era, but I'm pretty sure they got swept in the first round every time. How's that link for depressing... Grizzlies fans have never had the chance to celebrate a single playoff victory! Unbelievable! Anyway, I just heard the sound indicating that the next pick has been made, so I should give some thoughts on Thabeet and move on. I do think they're reaching a bit on Thabeet at No. 2, especially since he has some bust potential, but at the same time, I don't necessarily hate the pick. The upside of Thabeet is that he could develop into a bonafide defensive stopper in the NBA (a la Dikembe Mutombo). On the flip side, I don't think you're ever going to get anything from him offensively, and if he fails to adjust to the speed and length of pro players, he may just be another tall, lanky guy who ends up on a lot of posters... in a bad sense (a la Shawn Bradley). Since he's going to play for the Grizzlies... I'd bank on the latter.

Pick No. 3 - Oklahoma City Thunder
Selection: James Harden (SG) Arizona State

Thoughts: I'm a little disappointed in the Zombie-Sonics on this one. They have been building a really good young core of players with Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, and Russel Westbrook and I was hoping to see them swing for the fences with Ricky Rubio and look to create a potential dynasty that would be enormously fun to watch. Still, Harden is a safe pick and positionally fits in well with that group of players. After the Draft Lottery, I was hoping he was a player who would fall to the Raptors at No. 9... it quickly became apparent that we weren't going to get that lucky. He's the type of player who's high basketball IQ is really valuable to his team, but I've heard he's only an average athlete and seems destined for to be a good-but-not-great player. He seems like a bit of a reach at No. 3, but Sam Presti is a smart GM and must see something he likes in Harden (either that or he's working on a trade).

Pick No. 4 - Sacramento Kings
Selection: Tyreke Evans (SG) Memphis

Thoughts: Evans is another player that I was initially hoping would fall to the Raptors. Still, Sacto desperately needs a PG and this seems like a strange pick with Rubio and even Jonny Flynn still on the board. I really don't see Evans developing into a point guard in the pros, but he could always surprise me. I do think he has an uncanny knack for getting to the basket and finishing around the rim. Apparently there have been some Dwyane Wade comparisons with him, but I heard Chad Ford shoot those down pretty definitively... he doesn't have nearly the athleticism of Wade and tends to finish below the rim, rather than above it. Not a bad pick, but not one that I see saving a terrible Sacramento team that is in danger of relocating.

Pick No. 5 - Minnesota Timberwolves
Selection: Ricky Rubio (PG) Spain

Thoughts: Finally somebody grabbed Rubio! Apparently the T-Wolves decided that a teenage prodigy from Spain who held his own against Chris Paul in the Olympics -- even with one injured arm -- and whose passing skills have been positively compared to Steve Nash, Pete Maravich, and Larry Bird was worth taking a chance on. I would tend to agree. This pick definitely justifies the strange trade they made with Washington to acquire the No. 5 pick when they already owned the No. 6... speaking of which, let's see who they nabbed with that one.

Pick No. 6 - Minnesota Timberwolves
Selection: Jonny Flynn (PG) Syracuse

Thoughts: OK... now I'm confused. There has to be another trade in the works for the T-Wolves... it doesn't seem to make sense to take another point guard after grabbing Rubio. I like Flynn a lot and he was one of the more intriguing options the Raptors had their sights on. He's one of those tough little guys who's tenacity alone will keep him in the league for a long time. I see him as a slightly more talented Kyle Lowry. I only saw a little of him during the NCAA tournament this year, but during that time I saw him stand in and take a charge from Blake Griffin, who had a full head of steam at the time. It was pretty impressive, even if it was one of the dumbest things I've ever witnessed a human being do. Anyway, we'll see how this plays out because I don't see the T-Wolves keeping both of these guys.

Pick No. 7 - Golden State Warriors
Selection: Stephen Curry (PG) Davidson

Thoughts: Looks like I'm finally caught up to the real time action, and pretty much just in time to see what the Raps do. By the way, I love this pick. A lot of people are worried about Curry's size, but I don't really see a scenario where he doesn't develop into a very decent NBA player (at a minimum). I had the privilege of watching him in person during the 2008 NCAA tournament, and there was just something about him that set him apart from the rest of the players on the floor. Partially, it was the fact that he was the guy dropping one three-point bomb after another to rip the heart out of Wisconsin, but it also had to do with the way he carried himself with an extreme confidence (not cockiness) and just knew that he was the guy who was going to dictate the flow of the game. He is incredibly adept at creating space for himself and has such a beautiful, high-arcing shot that he can get it off in traffic, even against guys who are much taller than him. I don't know about them projecting him as a point guard... he'll be able to handle the position, but I think he'll excel playing off the ball. Golden State should be an ideal situation for him, as that offense will allow him to get his shots, and his defensive shortcomings won't really matter, since they don't really play defence anyway.

Pick No. 8 - New York Knicks
Selection: Jordan Hill (PF) Arizona

Thoughts: I'm sure the Knicks were heart-broken to watch Curry get snatched up just ahead of them, as I heard he was the guy they really wanted. Jordan Hill was probably the right pick here... sometimes you just need to get the most talented guy available. Hill now gives them the option of letting David Lee walk in free agency, which will keep with their strategy of clearing as much money as possible for the LeBron push in 2010.

Pick No. 9 - Toronto Raptors
Selection: DeMar DeRozan (SG) USC

Thoughts: I knew going in that I probably wouldn't have a huge opinion on any of the guys the Raps took here. Brian Colangelo stated the other day that he was targeting five guys (Jonny Flynn, DeMar DeRozan, Jrue Holiday, Gerald Henderson, and James Johnson) and you knew most of those guys would be available at No. 9. Johnson was been the only guy I would have really been unhappy with. Holiday and DeRozan are wait-and-see guys, either of whom could end up being stars (or flops), while Henderson or Flynn would have been safer picks with a lower ceiling, but less risk. I probably would have preferred Henderson, but DeRozan most seemingly fills their glaring need for an athletic wing. The question will obviously be whether he can harness his raw athleticism and actually become a well-rounded basketball player. It's a little unsettling that he had such a mediocre year in college, after coming in with so much hype. Anyway, he's now my guy (that's the way this thing works) and I'm here to tell you that he's going to be the next Kobe Bryant... he'll be a lock-down defender and will be impossible to contain on offense. He'll probably win at least three MVP awards and should lead the Raptors to seven NBA Titles... if not more. I love DeMar DeRozan!!!

[Note: It's interesting that the Raptors never even mentioned Brandon Jennings in their list. By all accounts, he has more talent than anyone on their list. I guess there was something about him that BC didn't like.]

Pick No. 10 - Milwaukee Bucks
Selection: Brandon Jennings (PG) Italy

Thoughts: Speaking of... You couldn't really fault the Bucks for any pick they made here, since they have so many holes across their roster. I'm not sure what to make of Jennings, as he sounds like a bit of an enigma... tons of talent, but on the flip side, he didn't even get heavy minutes playing in the Italian league last year. Still, if Michael Redd comes back healthy, it's conceivable that he and Jennings could form a formidable backcourt tandem, with Ramon Sessions (if they resign him) being the spark-plug off the bench, which is the ideal role for him, in my opinion. Like DeRozan, Jennings could be a star or a flop, so I think this is another pick that we'll have to wait to evaluate.

Pick No. 11 - New Jersey Nets
Selection: Terrence Williams (SG) Louisville

Thoughts: After they traded Vince Carter earlier today, it was pretty much a given that the Nets were going to take Williams. I don't know much about Williams, but from the small amount I've seen, he's nowhere close to the kind of scorer that Carter is -- he's more of a guy who's good at everything, but not great at anything. I guess it's a given that they weren't going to replace Carter's points, since you're not supposed to be able to find a guy like that this late in a weak draft... but they are really left with a dearth of scorers after this trade. It'll be interesting to see how the structure the team next year... they could actually be pretty decent if they are able to play solid team defence and if Brook Lopez continues to improve and they play a pick-and-roll game with him and Devin Harris on offense. I still don't see them being a major player in the East, but they will still be competitive, which would be impressive after pretty much straight-up dumping Vince Carter to shed salary (they did get Courtney Lee in the deal, who's not bad... but still).

Pick No. 12 - Charlotte Bobcats
Selection: Gerald Henderson (SG) Duke

Thoughts: It's always fun to see which rookie is going to have to put up with Larry Brown jerking his minutes around... looks like Henderson gets the "privilege" this year (as an aside, I wonder if there will be any Duke - North Carolina tension in the locker room between those two). I actually really like this pick... I feel that in weaker drafts it's always best to go for proven players who have spent time learning the game in strong college programs. These players sometimes tend to get underrated, since scouts love players with raw talent... unfortunately, in a lot of cases that talent remains untapped. Teams tend to be guilty of staying away from guys who appear to have already reached their ceiling, even if that ceiling is better than what you'll get from the "raw talent" guys nine times out of ten. Probably the best recent example of this is Gilbert Arenas, who fell to the 2nd Round in the 2001 draft. Back to Henderson, as much as I dislike Duke -- and most of its players -- I actually don't mind Henderson and think his game has a good chance of evolving nicely at the pro level. I don't think he'll ever be a star, but he should provide solid (possibly great) defense and timely scoring as the 3rd or 4th option on a team. I think this is a really solid pick for Charlotte.

Pick No. 13 - Indiana Pacers
Selection: Tyler Hansbrough (PF) North Carolina

Thoughts: Haha... I was looking forward to this part of the draft (i.e., the part where I get to make fun of Hansbrough for a whole paragraph). In one sense it's nice that the hard-working guy who's proven he can play well in college for four years gets taken ahead of talented underclassmen who have never had to work for anything... but what was Indiana thinking here? Even if Earl Clark doesn't attend practice for the rest of his life, he'll still be a better pro player than Hansbrough. I heard that Hansbrough actually surprised some people with his measurements at the combine, but he's still undersized to play PF in the pros, and there's no way he has the quickness to transition to SF. If he had a better basketball IQ or passing skills, he might be able to develop into a niche-PF a la Kevin Love, but that's not the case. In fact, he really doesn't have any definable skills apart from "good hustle" (similar to me when I played baseball). The good news is that the locals in Indiana will probably like him just for playing the game "the right way". The bad news is that he'll only get to play "the right way" in practice and garbage time.

Pick No. 14 - Pheonix Suns
Selection: Earl Clark (PF) Louisville

Thoughts: Here's another guy that was high on my pre-draft "wish list" for the Raptors. To be honest, if we had drafted him, I would be absolutely terrified that he would live up to the career standards of his best "NBA comparison"... Mr. Tim Thomas. On the other hand, it's hard not to be intrigued by his raw talent (I know, I'm doing exactly what I just recently criticized scouts for... I'm a hypocrite). Very few guys have the combination of length and agility that Clark has. It's also a good sign that he was such a good rebounder in college. I think he could end up being a really good player in the Suns system. With Shaq gone now, maybe they can play small ball with Amare playing centre and either Clark or Robin Lopez played the 4... they would suffer defensively, but does that really matter to the Suns? Besides, they would be a impossible for most teams to match up against. Since they don't really have a chance to compete next year, they may as well go back to being the most entertaining team in the league, right?

Well folks (and by that, I mean Reg and Paul), thanks for staying with me this long. That's the end of the lottery, and I don't think I'll have much interesting to say for the rest of the picks (I'm not even sure that I did for the previous ones). I do think it's interesting that Jrue Holiday fell out of the lottery... he's got to be a reasonable gamble for any team at this point... but apart from him and Eric Maynor (my draft sleeper), I don't think there will be any impact players drafted from this point on. Actually, it might be worth keeping an eye on Wayne Ellington and DeJuan Blair, as both fit my "proven players from elite college programs" theory that I outlined in the Gerald Henderson section.

This was a fun exercise in speed writing, so I'll probably go back and do a quick edit, but I doubt the grammatical quality of this post will be up to my usual standards. If you're looking for the same sort of thing -- only much, much better -- be sure to check out Bill Simmons' Draft Diary on ESPN.com tomorrow... it's never let me down in the past.

May Your Future Paths Lead You to Successes that are Equalled or Surpassed by DeMar DeRozan,