July 7, 2010

Bob Ryan, of the Boston Globe, put a pin in some free agents’ balloons.

“It’s NBA free agency season. How do you like it so far?
(By the way, the Jordan Farmar Era is over in LA. The Lakers gave Steve Blake a four-year contract. You scared?)
There’s been some head-scratching stuff going on out there. Minnesota gives Darko (one of these years I’ll play more than 15 minutes a game and average
more than 8 points per) Milicic four years, $20 million (but, hey the fourth year is only partially guaranteed)? Milwaukee gives Drew (nine teams in eight
years) Gooden five years, $32 million? Amir (go ahead, name the team that has re-signed him) Johnson gets five years, $34 million? The answer is Toronto.
This isn’t just a wonderful country, or, I guess I should say, continent. This is a fictionally blissful, pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming continent. It’s a tremendous time to be young, tall, and a marginally talented basketball player.
And what was that about the “impoverished’’ owners (who, according to the Commish, lost $400 million last year) gearing up to lock out the players a year hence?
You’ll be hearing lots more about that depressing story as the 2010-11 season unfolds. Let’s again turn our attention to the fascinating summer of 2010, which was endlessly discussed and analyzed in advance for at least two years, and which, six days into the process, leaves most of the really big fish still swimming in the Sea of Uncertainty.
Forget about what we think, intuit, or feel is worth a reasonable guess about what’s going on with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh,
three-fourths of the free agency Big Four. Here is the only thing we know: Amar’e (forget about my bad knees and utter lack of interest in defense and
growing disdain about getting myself dirty by actually, you know, posting up every now and then) Stoudemire, he of the wandering apostrophe, is a New
York Knick.
The beyond-desperate inhab itants of Madison Square Garden, whose team president/CEO rates a separate admission wing in the Idiot Owners Hall of
Fame, have thrust the maximum contract (five years, nearly $100 million) at a player who is pretty much guaranteed to break down no later than the midway point of the deal and who has proven, as have several others in this free agent class, that he is a fine wingman, a suitable adjunct, a faithful Tonto to the Lone Ranger type player, but someone who will be unmasked once asked to be The Man.
And can you imagine a worse city in which to be thus exposed, especially when LeBron is kissing the Larry O’Brien Trophy while wearing the uniform of the Cavaliers, Bulls, Heat, or, and wouldn’t we all contribute to the kitty to make this happen, the Brooklyn Nets?
The Knicks aren’t the only one suffering from that debilitating disease known as Max Madness.
To begin with, here’s a philosophical question: Just because you’ve identified someone as your best player, does that mean you’re duty-bound to give him a max contract? Can’t you just reward him nicely and fairly without giving him a contract that implies he’ll be something he’s constitutionally incapable of being?
Exhibit A: Atlanta maxes Joe Johnson. A fine player, Joe Johnson. I’d like to have him (oh, wait, we did). I’ve seen him make shots against the Celtics that
were somewhere between Jordanesque and Kobe-like. But he’s not a No. 1 guy. He’s a No. 2 on a team of No. 2 and No. 3 guys. As the Hawks were en
route to the most savage four-game series beating in the history of the NBA — that’s fact, not hyperbole — no one shrunk into nothingness against the Magic more than Joe Johnson. In fact, here are his shooting numbers in the final seven games of the 2010 playoffs: 6 for 16, 8 for 24, 4 for 14, 4 for 11, 5 for 16, 3 for 15, and 5 for 15. That’s 31 percent. What would the Hawks have done for him had he actually played well when it most mattered?
Exhibit B: Memphis maxes Rudy Gay. A nice player. Anyone would take him. But max him? He used to disappear a lot in games when he was at UConn,
leaving one with two conclusions. 1) He’s a shy kid who doesn’t know how good he is. 2) There simply is no pilot light. After four years with the Grizz,
people down there are of the same opinion. And if he’s a max guy, what is O.J. Mayo? I’m not so sure Marc Gasol isn’t more important to the Memphis
As for the Big Three free agents, what do we really know?
We know that before they signed Stoudemire the Knicks tried to hit LeBron with major money talk, producing a report from a marketing consultant claiming that James could make anywhere between $1 billion and $2 billion in total salary and outside income as a lifetime Knick (i.e. 37, 38 years old, a real reach), as opposed to an estimated $700 million in Cleveland, $690 million in Chicago, and $600 million in Miami.
We know that Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov tried to dazzle LeBron with his international business reach. We know the Heat talked having Wade and
sufficient salary cap space to add another max guy.
We know the Bulls talked up their current roster only needing LeBron to become a champion. We know Cleveland prepared a cartoon video that one wag suggested was very well-geared to recruit a 14-year-old.
Cleveland surely needs roster re-do, but the Cavaliers do have an edge. The public is laying a colossal guilt trip on him to remain home, the implication that the franchise might collapse if he leaves. There is also no denying that he is loyal to the region.
Wade is totally comfortable in Miami. His situation is complicated by a very messy divorce proceeding in which he has been given temporary custody of his two children, who had been living in Chicago. But should he win full custody, which legal observers believe will happen, he then can move the offspring to Miami.
The odds still favor him staying where he is.
Chris Bosh? Aside from having a camera crew follow his every move (remember Manny and ESPN 10 years ago?), Bosh has been in the background.
He is very much the wild card. Is he worth the fuss? Some say that if he’s that good, why has he only been to the playoffs twice in seven years? Valid point.
But I’ve seen him perform in international competition, and this guy can really play. Playing alongside either LeBron or Wade, he could affect the balance of power.
When you come down to it, there really is only one thing we know for sure. A lot of people have gotten rich. Or are about to.”

Chris Erskine of the LA Times talked about the reactions in France to their team’s performance in the World Cup.
“What you should never forget is that the blood of Napoleon runs through these people. Sacre bleu, you should see them cramming their luggage into an overhead bin on my Air France flight in the heat of summer. Chocolatiers and fashion models aside, these are a very tough people, the French. Soccer should be easy for them. But it no longer is.

There’s this guy in a cafe on the Left Bank, face like a leather loafer, sitting at the table along the sidewalk while nursing his wine and watching the women in summer dresses pedal past on bicycles. He says he’s still way too sad to talk about what happened to the French soccer team in South Africa.

For a while, I was too — heck, I think we all were, but we blasted right through those emotions the way Americans do. The French, to their discredit, are
more melancholy about their defeats. Napoleon died a long time ago, after all, and frankly things have never really been the same since.

What happened to the French at the World Cup was ugly on many levels, “LINDSAY LOHAN ARRESTED WHILE SWIMMING IN TIDAL
BASIN”-ugly. As you’ll probably recall, the star player threw a hissy fit, while playing for a coach of dubious merit. I could convey the details of their
exchange, except it would get me fired. Leave it said that what the star player said to the coach is anatomically impossible.

In true French fashion, the players all went on strike in support of the malcontent, refusing to practice. Refusing to do things is almost as French as bad music.

“So how are people taking to what happened in the World Cup?” I ask the shuttle driver from Charles de Gaulle Airport.

“The Louvre is a very nice museum,” he answers.

So, yes, they’re in denial about the whole World Cup thing; who wouldn’t be? When you collapse in such delicious fashion on the world stage, all you can do is pretend it doesn’t mean as much as it does. I don’t know that the U.S. has ever suffered the equivalent of this, other than the annual deflowering of the
Chicago Cubs, or all the embarrassing things that used to go on with the University of Miami football team. True, the Denver Broncos used to collapse in spectacular ways in Super Bowls, but then John Elway came along to erase all that. No, other than Lohan, there is no real precedent for this level of national shame.

“You should’ve seen this bar,” says Sasha White, a Temple University student summering at the Frog and the Princess pub. “People were drinking themselves retarded.

“When they played Mexico, either people wanted to go home and not be around people for a while, or they wanted to get wasted.”

“We expected it,” says barman Francois Dedieu. “We weren’t surprised.”

Through it all runs this undercurrent of disenchantment. World Cup teams are often made up of mercenaries with only tangential ties to the motherland. There is also a coming to terms with what France is today, a simmering melting pot.

“There was tension over the racial makeup of the team,” explains David Ng, a Parisian originally from Hong Kong. “We have a saying in China: Doesn’t
matter if it’s a black cat or a white cat. If the cat can catch a mouse, it’s a good cat.”

Thing is, the French have this very twisted notion as to what sports should be. Almost none of the bars have TVs — only flickering candles — and if they did there would be nothing to show. Here, there is only soccer, and a little bike race called the Tour de France. An annual tennis meet warms the summer for a while, and in the south of the country, they have rugby. Strangely, NASCAR has yet to gain a foothold.

Instead of sports, they do all sorts of crazy things with their time. They chase each other around parks and take long, decadent lunches. In America, we’re all eating at our desks and checking Facebook. Here, workers spend the lunch hour at sidewalk tables, sipping coffee and planning their August flings. It’s no way to live, if you ask me, but c’est la vie.

By the way, you should hear me conversing with these French.

“Bonjour, monsieur,” the bellman says.

“Bonjour yourself!” I say back brightly.

The communication between them and me is so rich that I plan to stay on a while. I think I could do them a lot of good. I could open a true sports bar, for example, and perhaps help them acquire an NFL team. Imagine me as the French Ed Roski.

It’s the sort of low-pressure situation in which I generally thrive. And if the team tanks, and anyone complains, I already have the proper French response.

The Louvre is a very nice museum.”


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