The Ballad of Big Star

The NBA’s Midnight Run, Part 1

Universal Pictures

The NBA’s Midnight Run, Part 2

Bill Simmons concludes his look at the basketball offseason, with some more help from a timeless '80s classic

If you missed Part 1 of my annual NBA Summer Movement review, in which I handed out Midnight Run quotes as awards for July’s winners and losers, click here. Before we get to Part 2, I want to make five more points about one of my favorite movies ever.

1. I can’t remember another comedy using F-bombs better than Midnight Run. The F-bomb is practically its own character in the movie, getting dropped nearly once a minute (119 times in 126 minutes). A good way to judge the effectiveness of those F-bombs: How much does the movie suffer when it’s being bleeped to smithereens on TBS or USA? In Midnight Run‘s case … a lot. You almost feel like it’s being mutilated.1 If you made an F-Bomb Movie Mount Rushmore, Midnight Run probably gets the no. 4 spot behind Scarface, Goodfellas and Reservoir Dogs.

2. Since 1996, I’ve been to Vegas probably 25 or 30 times. And there wasn’t a single time when I walked through McCarran Airport that I didn’t want to scream at the top of my lungs, “SERRANO’S GOT THE DISKS! SERRANO’S GOT THE DISKS!”

3. I’ve loved this movie for so long, and I’ve been writing this column for so long (16 years!), that I have a hazy memory of once building a column around the Duke’s scathing line “I hope it’s a wonderful coffee shop, Jack.” Only I can’t remember when I wrote this column, or why I wrote it, or even who it may have been about. I spent 20 minutes on Google looking for it and couldn’t find it. There’s a chance I hallucinated the entire thing. (The moral of this story: I need to retire soon.)

4. You know who composed the distinctive, rollicking soundtrack that unquestionably made the movie about 9.35 percent better and may have even inspired about four different JD & the Straight Shot songs? Danny Elfman. Yes, THAT Danny Elfman.

5. When you consider (a) how shameless Hollywood is, (b) how few good ideas Hollywood has, (c) how terrific De Niro and Grodin were together, and (d) the movie’s second (and more enduring) wave of popularity once it started making the rounds on cable, it’s surprising that Universal didn’t rope De Niro and Grodin into doing a sequel. How easy would that have been? Serrano gets out of jail, blows up Jack’s coffee shop and vows revenge on the Duke, followed by the Duke and Jack teaming up to get rid of him? Come on.

To everyone’s shock and horror, they made three TV movies starting in 1994 with Christopher McDonald playing Jack Walsh: Another Midnight Run, Midnight Runaround and Midnight Run for Your Life. It’s almost like Hollywood was trying to hurt us. (These movies never happened. You hear me? They never happened.) Twenty-five years later, you’d never remake the movie, but you could make a pretty good case that Midnight Run could be revived as a cable TV series. Start it in Chicago, revolve the first episode around Serrano driving Jack Walsh out of Chicago, then flash-forward two years to Jack’s depressing life as a bounty hunter, then blow out the Jack-Duke capture and road trip over the next seven episodes. (Thinking.) You’re right, that’s a terrible idea. Let’s get to Part 2.

“There’s good and bad everywhere, don’t you think?”
“I’d say there’s bad everywhere. Good I don’t know about.”

To the embattled Raptors fans, who endured nearly two decades of organizational hell that included the GM Bermuda Triangle (Isiah Thomas, Rob Babcock and Bryan Colangelo) and Sportsnet.ca recently writing that Glen Grunwald was “popularly viewed as the Raptors’ best GM” and “the man who orchestrated the construction of the most beloved Raptors teams,” as well as a man “behind a multitude of moves that are still cast in a warm, nostalgic glow.”

When you have a “warm, nostalgic glow” about a seven-year span that yielded three winning seasons and one trip to the second round, you need to reevaluate things. Fortunately for the Raptor Truthers, they suddenly have an accomplished CEO (Tim Leiweke) and a top-five GM (Masai Ujiri). Can they turn around a franchise that has lost 60 percent of its games and enjoyed exactly ONE playoff series victory in 18 seasons? Is Canadian professional basketball just plain jinxed? Was it a good sign or a bad sign that Jonas Valanciunas won the Kedrick Brown Trophy as 2013’s unofficial summer league MVP?2 And what about this?

“You can start by shutting up. I know you all of two minutes and I already don’t like you.”
“Gee, that’s too bad. I reallllly like you.”

One of my favorite throwaway exchanges goes to one of my favorite throwaway revelations of the summer: Rudy Gay’s eyesight was so bad that (a) he could barely pass his driver’s license test, and (b) he refused to wear contact lenses, so he finally got an operation last spring to fix his sight. Has anyone ever taken more dramatic measures to rebut their Hoopdata location shooting stats? And can’t you see Masai Ujiri shopping Rudy’s onerous contract by telling other GMs “You’re buying low — he just got his eyes fixed, and he’s going to average 30 a game this season! Just give me an expiring and your 2014 unprotected no. 1 and we’ll call it even.” Keep an eye on the Raps. Speaking of shortened nicknames …

“What’s that for?”
“A little inside joke between me and Alonzo.”

To Zach Lowe, whose quest to call the Pelicans the “Pellies” ranked among the most goofy-entertaining moments in Grantland history. My prediction: I see their nickname unfolding much like that of Golden State, who assumed a variety of nickname forms over these past few decades (Warriors, Dubs, G-State and GSW). We’ll see “Pels” (spoken and print), “NOLA” (spoken, print and Twitter) and “‘Cans” (print and Twitter), with announcers calling them “New Orleans,” “the Pelicans” or “the Pels.” I don’t see “Pellies” happening. Sounds too much like a failed Major Indoor Soccer League franchise from the mid-’80s. Sorry, Z-Lowe. Hold on, we’re not done with team nicknames yet.

“How much is the coffee?”
“53 cents.”
“How much is the tea?”
“53 cents.”
“I’ll have the tea.”

To the lowly Bobcats, who smartly grabbed the vacated Hornets nickname so they could ride a wave of 1990s nostalgia momentum.3 Look, it’s not often you get to write the words “Bobcats,” “smartly” and “momentum” in the same sentence. Let’s remember this moment.

As for the coffee/tea exchange, that’s one of my favorite Grodin moments and Reason No. 79 why he should have snared a Best Supporting Oscar nomination (and would have, if the Academy had any semblance of a sense of humor). Here were the nominees that year:

Alec Guinness, Little Dorrit
Kevin Kline, A Fish Called Wanda
Martin Landau, Tucker: The Man and His Dream
River Phoenix, Running on Empty
Dean Stockwell, Married to the Mob

Kline ended up winning the Oscar — for a comedy part, no less — which both ruins my point (occasionally, the Academy WILL notice a comedy) and reinforces it (why embrace Kline but ignore De Niro and Grodin?). I’m actually OK with that, even if Grodin versus Kline is a legitimate argument. Grodin and Farina should have snared two of the shaky Guinness/Landau/Phoenix spots. We’ll never know how the votes shook out because the Academy never releases its votes — that would be too much fun for everyone, so why do that? Anyway, De Niro getting boned over for a Best Actor nomination was almost as indefensible. The nominees:

Gene Hackman, Mississippi Burning
Tom Hanks, Big
Dustin Hoffman, Rain Man
Edward James Olmos, Stand and Deliver
Max von Sydow, Pelle the Conqueror

Hoffman won it. Hanks and Olmos deserved to be there. Hackman snuck in because it was such a weighty movie and he’s Gene Hackman; I get it. But von Sydow for Pelle the Conqueror?

Please. Just a classic “Let’s take care of an old guy who’s never been nominated before, especially because THIS MOVIE IS SERIOUS AND HAS SUBTITLES!!!” Oscars vote. If De Niro isn’t getting that spot, then give it to Tom Cruise for Rain Man — that movie doesn’t work unless he carries every scene, plays off Hoffman and makes you eventually like Charlie Babbitt (who’s an inconsiderate asshole for a solid hour of that movie). You can’t vote Rain Man for Best Picture (yes, it won) without recognizing Cruise. Either way, the Oscars make me crazy and this is why I never write about them. Let’s move on.

“You get [the car] started, and I’ll run you over. That’s the best plan I can think of.”

To the Orlando Magic, who seemed totally screwed by the Dwightmare as recently as 12 months ago … only now, they’re earning e-mails like this one (courtesy of Fort Wayne reader Jared Benz): “How come no one has revisited how Orlando somehow, against all odds, managed to not only win, but completely pillage everyone else involved in the Dwight Howard trade?”

Let’s see … they gave up one year of Howard and ended up with a promising starting center (Nikola Vucevic), a starting 2-guard (Arron Afflalo) and a semi-promising swingman (Mo Harkless) … they dumped Jason Richardson’s semi-unseemly contract on Philly … they picked up three first-rounders (Denver’s 2014 pick, the Lakers’ 2017 pick and a far-away-in-the-future Philly pick) … and they worsened their 2013 team enough that they landed the no. 2 overall pick (Victor Oladipo). Jared is right, that was an outright pillaging! At the time, I criticized the Magic for not getting Andrew Bynum and made multiple jokes about then-new Orlando GM Rob Hennigan being overmatched. You know what? I’m giving myself a quote.

“What should be of paramount importance to you right now is not the phone calls, it’s the fact that you’re gonna spend 10 years for impersonating a federal agent.”
“Ten years for impersonating a fed, huh?”
“Ten years.”
“How comes no one’s after you?”
4

To me, for doing such a mediocre impersonation of a wannabe NBA GM in this column. I wouldn’t have done any better than most of these failed guys. Well, except for David Kahn. I would have done better than him. Anyway, combine Orlando’s Howard haul with its Harris-Redick hijacking and Hennigan could start putting “Sam Presti 2.0″ on his business cards. Let’s hope he doesn’t trade Oladipo for 20 cents on the dollar in four years. (Sorry, I had to.)

“I don’t like this. I don’t like anything you do, to tell you the truth. Nothing.”

Instead of taking my advice and unabashedly Riggin’ for Wiggins, the Lakers kept Pau Gasol; amnestied Metta World Piece; signed three journeyman free agents who will make them slightly better (Chris Kaman, Jordan Farmar and Nick Young); then started pushing the improbable “Kobe might be back for training camp!” narrative. Imagine a crunch-time unit of Kaman, Gasol, Young, a still-recovering Kobe and 40-year-old Steve Nash, with the immortal Mike D’Antoni coaching them. Has there ever been a more abominable defensive team? Their opponents could just run offenses in the form of a layup line. Go, Jimmy Boy Buss! Keep doing the damned thing!

“You can’t steal a truck!”
“You were stealing a plane!”

The riskiest part of the movie goes to this summer’s riskiest team: The Warriors, who sacrificed two first-rounders to shed enough cap space for Andre Iguodala (signed to a very fair four-year, $48 million deal). I judge every contender’s move by this question: Are you adding someone who could have played big minutes in the pressure cooker that I attended in Miami during Game 6 and Game 7 of the Finals? And in Iggy’s case, that dude could absolutely go to battle against LeBron, Wade, Parker and everyone else on the court for those games. You’d want him out there, actually.

So by that logic, great signing … right? But can you really play small ball with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Iggy and Andrew Bogut as your only big guy? That’s a lot of pressure on Bogut when he keeps physically breaking down, and also, they’re changing their identity because Iggy can’t shoot nearly as well as their other perimeter guys. And what about David Lee, a returning All-Star who needs 33-35 minutes a night? We need an Odd Man Out here; unfortunately, it’s going to be Barnes, who showed significant promise in the San Antonio series as an athletic 3/4 tweener (à la Kawhi Leonard). Barnes is enough of a drifter during games that you almost need to give him MORE responsibility so he has no choice but to come through (which is what happened in Round 2). These Warriors will rely on him in shorter stints, probably as the best bench player. I’m not sure he’s wired that way. So will Iguodala inadvertently ruin Barnes’s short-term chances at being an impact guy? Well …

“See you in the next life, Jack!”

To Barnes — the previous three paragraphs were a roundabout way of predicting that (a) Barnes is going to struggle, and (b) he’ll land in 275,345 trade rumors next January and February.

“About 6 feet tall?”
“Six-five.”
“Dark brown hair?”
“Light colored.”
“Sounds like our man.”

To poor Andrew Bynum, who lingered on the market for weeks like a foreclosed house before Cleveland begrudgingly stepped in (basically, $6 million guaranteed through January, although the Cavs can potentially go one year for $12 million or two years for $24 million if they want). There’s a lesson here for every future free agent: When you miss an entire season with major knee problems and are lackadaisical about your rehab while simultaneously attempting a variety of crazy hairdos that transform you into a running sports blog character, it turns out this HURTS your market value.

Do the litmus configuration. [Pause.] Are you doing the litmus configuration?

One of the movie’s most confusingly entertaining scenes (Jack and the Duke pretending to be FBI agents and fleecing Red out of his $20 bills)5 goes to our most confusingly entertaining offseason plan: basically, everything the Cavs just did. They went into this summer with buttloads of cap space, the no. 1 overall pick and three more draft picks (no. 19, no. 31 and no. 33) … and somehow ended up with a second power forward who doubled as the most shocking no. 1 overall pick since Kwame Brown (Anthony Bennett); a slightly overpaid third guard (Jarrett Jack); someone with a good chance to be Yaroslav Korolev 2.0 (Sergey Karasev); the immortal Earl Clark; and The Artist Formerly Known As Bynum. Yikes. Although I guess I should thank them for making me audibly gasp on live television with that Bennett pick — I feel like I’m a part of history! My high-pitched gasp will live on and on and on!

What should they have done? I’m confining my Wannabe GM rants to the footnotes.6 Just know that, one month ago, I would have picked their roster over any other lottery team’s roster. Not anymore. And you know what really worries me?

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I keep thinking we’re gonna wind up back together again. I don’t know why, I’m still hanging on, I’m still waitin’ around.”
“I don’t think she’s coming back.”
“Yeah, I don’t either.”
“Sometimes you just have to let go. Just get yourself a new watch.”

That’s what this was all about! LeBron! Notice how they kept the salary-cap door open juuuuuuuuuust enough to grease the skids for his potential return next summer over tying up their cap with a Godfather offer for, say, Nikola Pekovic??? It’s just too bad they didn’t do a better job greasing everything else. By the way, I haven’t talked to one person who doesn’t think there isn’t a real chance that LeBron can’t come back. That’s right, I just went quadruple negative on you. The situation demanded it.

In other news, this is the best scene of the movie and brings up one of Hollywood’s better two-part “What ifs” …

1. According to Alan Sepinwall, De Niro begrudgingly agreed to do Midnight Run after losing the lead in Big to Tom Hanks. So what if De Niro played Josh Baskin? And what if Anyone Else played Jack Walsh? I think we just ruined two classic movies. Thank God they picked Hanks.7

2. At one point, Cher was supposed to play the Duke before everyone realized this would be the worst idea in the history of cinema. Then, Robin Williams was supposed to play the Duke, only he couldn’t work out his schedule, so they “settled” on Grodin … who only gave the performance of his career. What if Williams plays the Duke instead? He certainly takes the movie in a crazier, more manic, more ad-libbish direction. And yet I just can’t imagine this movie being any better than it was with De Niro and Grodin. This worked out for the best.

You ever had sex with an animal, Jack? Remember those chickens around the Indian reservation? There were some good-looking chickens there, Jack. You know, between us.”
“Yeah, there were a couple there I wouldn’t mind taking a shot at.”

One of the funniest exchanges goes to the funniest moment of the month: After Sam Amick reported that Dwight had picked Houston, an hour or so passed, then Chris Broussard reported that Dwight was still 50/50 … and everyone KILLED Dwight on Twitter for two solid hours until Dwight’s agent set the record straight (that poor Dwight had never wavered and really had picked Houston).

What does it say about Dwight’s behavior these past two years that an erroneous report led to Dwight getting unfairly raked over the coals, only nobody felt bad when the real story came out? Who’s up for another swing at the Dwight Howard Piñata? Step right up! Make your 140-character joke about Dwight Howard being wishy-washy! Step right up! I thoroughly enjoyed “The Indecision.”

“You shut up! I’m not talkin’ to you for the whole rest of this trip.”

To Omer Asik, who asked for a trade shortly after Dwight signed (and was denied). Who else is enjoying a world in which Omer Asik’s trade demands get tweeted immediately by multiple reporters? We all know what the right outcome is here: Adam Silver needs to step in and say, “Look, New Orleans, you already screwed up your team — just trade Ryan Anderson for Asik and Patrick Beverley so Harden, Anderson and Chandler Parsons can bomb wide-open 3s for 100 games. That’s what everyone wants. We already saved your asses with the Chris Paul veto — you owe us.”

I wanted to tell you two things. No. 1 is that you’re gonna die tonight. No. 2 is that I’m gonna go home, have a nice hot meal, I’m gonna find your wife, and I’m gonna kill her, too.”

The scariest part of the movie (Serrano vowing to kill the Duke) goes to the scariest moment of the offseason: Andrei Kirilenko opting out of $10.2 million guaranteed for one more Minnesota season so he could sign with Brooklyn for $6.2 million over two years. Some NBA peeps are convinced that AK47 either (a) got paid under the table by Russian comrade Mikhail Prokhorov, (b) got charmed by the overwhelmingly charming Irina Pavlova into signing a bad deal, (c) secretly hired the agent Monta Ellis fired, or (d) made the decision while being dangled upside down from a Moscow helicopter at 10,000 feet.

But here’s something to remember: Kirilenko has made more than $110 million playing professional basketball already, including those two years he spent playing overseas. He’s the most famous Russian basketball player ever. Wouldn’t it make sense that he’d join forces with the most famous Russian basketball owner ever? Isn’t that good for Kirilenko’s Russian brand, especially if they make the Finals? (Thinking.) You’re right, I think they dangled him upside down from a helicopter.

Sidney, sit down, relax, have a sandwich, drink a glass of milk, do some f—ing thing, will ya?

To Deron Williams … I mean … you can’t set him up better than this. A handpicked coach (Jason Kidd), two Hall of Famers (Pierce and Garnett), the league’s best offensive center (Brook Lopez), a top-five 2-guard (Joe Johnson), a legitimately good bench (Kirilenko, Andray Blatche, Shaun Livingston, Reggie Evans and Jason Terry) and an owner who’s brazenly ignoring the luxury tax to the tune of $80 million–plus. Also, KG and Pierce will be significantly better off on the Tim Duncan Minutes Plan (27-28 a night), and don’t sleep on Pierce in a contract year and Eff You Mode. That’s quite a luxury car to drive. Here’s my question: Do you feel good about handing the keys to Deron Williams after he lost a Game 7 at home to a one-legged Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose and Luol Deng in matching suits? Because I certainly don’t.

“You wouldn’t have change for a thousand, would ya?”
“Whatta ya, a comedian? Get outta here, you bum.”
“Looks like I’m walkin’.”

To Jason Collins, our first openly gay NBA player and someone who wants to keep playing … only he hasn’t been signed yet. Hmmmmmmmm. Collins has one more year left as a quality backup big, maybe two; the longer this drags on, the longer it looks like a No Balls Association situation. Who’s stepping up? It’s getting awkward. By the way, I’m sure there are better finishing lines for a movie than “Looks like I’m walkin'” — I just can’t think of any right now.

“Don’t worry, Eddie. For 25 grand I’ll bring him in on a silver platter!”

To the Jazz, who let Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap leave, then assumed $24 million of Andris Biedrins–Richard Jefferson–Brandon Rush cap cloggage from Golden State just to get its unprotected 2014 and 2017 no. 1 picks. I’m all for bottoming out for 2014’s mega-draft and rebuilding around Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward , Trey Burke and picks/cap space … but $24 million of dead contracts for two first-rounders???? Thanks to Utah for making me feel better about the Celtics taking on three years and $30.3 million of Gerald Wallace’s basketball cadaver. For about four minutes.

“He called me 10 minutes ago yelling and screaming and telling me to go f— myself. You’re telling me to go f— myself — EVERYONE’S TELLING ME TO GO F— MYSELF!”

To Al Jefferson and Josh Smith, this summer’s most maligned “splashy” free-agent signings. I’m going the other way — I kinda sorta maybe liked both signings. First of all, have you watched Charlotte? Just a bunch of dudes jacking up bad jumpers. Now they have Big Al, an admittedly awful defender and a black hole, but one of the league’s best low-post players and a guaranteed double-team in the last four minutes of every game. Had they given him $30 million for three years, you would have liked the deal. They had to pay $11 million extra because they’re Charlotte and who the hell wants to play in Charlotte? We have 30 NBA teams … would YOU want to play in Charlotte?

Here’s what we know: The Bobcats can build around three polished/competitive/used-to-winning college stars (Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Cody Zeller, their latest no. 1 pick, which I actually liked), Bismack Biyombo’s “Poor Man’s Serge Ibaka” potential, Jefferson’s low-post scoring and Whomever The Hell MJ Hired To Coach Who’s Getting Fired In One Or Two Years. I mean … that’s something! Who else is feeling 30-52 for the Bobcats? As for Josh, let’s give him his own quote …

“This calls for a celebration! I’ll get some doughnuts.”

Remember my 90/10 column about Russell Westbrook, and how certain All-Stars get picked apart just because their deficiencies happen to be more glaring than normal? That’s Josh Smith in a nutshell.

Fact: For the past five years, he’s been the best or second-best player for a team that went 228-166 and made the playoffs every year.

Fact: Since 2008, Josh Smith has won more playoff series (three) than Chris Paul (two).

Fact: In the last four seasons, Josh Smith averaged 17.0 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 3.9 assists and 3.2 stocks (steals + blocks) while shooting 47.5 percent and missing just 12 games total.

Fact: In nine years, Josh Smith never missed more than 13 games in one season, and he’s missed only 46 games total for his career. He’s durable as hell.

Fact: If you made a “Best Forwards in Basketball” list right now, LeBron and Durant would go first and second, obviously, followed by Carmelo Anthony, Paul George and Dirk Nowitzki. If Kevin Love is healthy, I’d have him sixth, followed by Blake Griffin seventh.8 You know who’s eighth if you threw out salaries and just based this list on “What am I getting every night on both ends RIGHT NOW if I need a quality forward to play 36 minutes a night for me as my best or second-best player on a playoff team”? That’s right, Josh Smith. You’d take him over Serge Ibaka, Anthony Davis and everyone else except mayyyyyyyybe David West.

So Detroit paid less than max money for, right now, the eighth-best forward in basketball. That’s a bad idea??? Now they can build around Andre Drummond, Smith, Greg Monroe, Brandon Jennings (more on him in a second) and $17 million in expirings (Charlie Villanueva and Rodney Stuckey) that could absolutely be flipped for one more asset. What’s wrong with that? Especially if Drummond (a potential stud who blossomed this summer into a 290-pound, 6-percent-body-fat Dwight Howard look-alike) continues to improve? Hold on, one more Pistons quote.

“Are you gonna stand up there with your thumb up your ass or are you gonna get me the f— outta here?”

To Brandon Jennings, who went from “Oh God, someone’s gonna give him the max this summer and it’s gonna be a calamity” to “Good Lord, getting that guy for three years and $25 million is a borderline hijacking!” I loved that trade for Detroit, if only because they’re going to be 2014’s most entertaining crunch-time team on League Pass: I can’t even imagine how many different ways Twitter is going to ridicule Josh Smith and Jennings fighting to outdo each other on off-balance “no-no-no-YES!” shots with 17 seconds left on the shot clock. Regardless, that’s an entertaining team. Even if this ruined any chance of my dream New Year’s Eve mega-tank deal for the Celtics: Rondo, Courtney Lee and Wallace’s $30.3 million basketball cadaver for Monroe, Knight, the Villanueva–Stuckey expirings and a 2016 unprotected no. 1 pick. Sayonara, my Trade Machine fantasy.

“Ninety-three bottles of beer … on … the … wall.”

Look, I may or may not have been wasting inordinate amounts of time this summer on ESPN’s Trade Machine making up fake Rondo trades. With Detroit out, one other Rondo suitor makes sense: the Kings. They’re rebooting around a new arena, a new owner whom everyone loves (Vivek Ranadivé), a rejuvenated Boogie Cousins (at least that’s the hope), and the chance to play an entire season without a Maloof involved. What about Rondo, Wallace’s $30.3 million basketball cadaver and Jordan Crawford’s expiring for Ben McLemore, the John Salmons–Patrick Patterson expirings, Greivis Vasquez, Jimmer Fredette and an unprotected no. 1 pick in 2014? (Thinking.) You’re right, I need to get off the Trade Machine.

“I suffer from aviophobia.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means I can’t fly. I also suffer from acrophobia and claustrophobia.”
“I’ll tell you what, if you don’t cooperate, you’re gonna suffer from fistophobia.”

Another one of my favorite exchanges goes to one of my favorite offseason GM performances: Atlanta’s Danny Ferry letting Smith leave, then replacing him with Paul Millsap (two years, $19 million = THEY S-T-O-L-E HIM), keeping Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague (four years, $56 million combined), then drafting German point guard Dennis Schroeder and a Brazilian energy guy named Bebe (I like both of them). Can someone send me the e-mail addresses of all 175 Hawks fans? I’d like to congratulate them. On the flip side …

You guys are the dumbest bounty hunters I’ve ever seen! You couldn’t even deliver a bottle of milk!

God, I just hated what the Horne— er, Pelicans did. Spending $44 million for four years on Tyreke Evans???????????9 Trading the no. 6 pick (Nerlens Noel) plus a top-three protected pick in the super-loaded 2014 draft for Jrue Holiday? For the next three years, they’re paying more than $111 million to three guards (Holiday, Evans and Eric Gordon) who, for all we know, might not be able to play together. Where are you going with that strategy? And who in their right mind would rather pay $44 million for Evans when Millsap (a better player, hands down — it’s not close) was sitting there for 40 percent of the price?

Somehow, the ‘Cans made the two summer moves I despised the most. Why give away two killer assets for Holiday over just keeping Greivis Vasquez (cheap contract) and signing a good backup like Nate Robinson? Or why not just try to sign Brandon Jennings and offer him slightly less than what Holiday is making? (Would you rather have Jennings, Noel and your 2014 pick … or Holiday? Come on.) Or why not save those assets to make a play for a better player down the road? Or why not just draft Noel, “struggle” for one more year, cherry-pick a stud from this monster 2014 draft, then make your move in 12 months? David Simon might have to revolve an entire Treme season around the ‘Cans botching this summer. Er, the Pels.

Two dollars, that’s all you’re gonna leave?
“That’s 15 percent.”
“No, that’s 13 percent! These people depend on tips for a living.”

To the great Arn Tellem, who orchestrated that ludicrous Tyreke contract AND got two more of his clients (Vasquez and Robin Lopez) traded to more favorable situations. How? He reps Anthony Davis, that’s how.

That’s been an underrated subplot lately: Teams buttering up power agents by overpaying their fringe clients as down payments for future extensions with the ones they really want. Just call them “down-payment contracts.” An even better example: Dan Fegan represents Martell Webster (mysteriously signed by the Wizards for a comically high $22 million) and John Wall (about to sign an $80 million extension with, yup, the Wizards). Congrats on your down-payment contract, Martell! Does this stuff work in real life? I might hire Tellem before my next ESPN contract — I want to see if I can get House and JackO multimillion-dollar deals.

“You just said you were hurt.”
“I didn’t say I was hurt, you said I was hurt.”
“I just asked you if you were hurt and you said, ‘Yeah, I’m hurt.'”
“That’s because you made me say it. You’re starting to put words in my mouth.”
“Jack, you’re a grown man, you’re in control of your own words.”
“You’re goddamn right I am. So here come two words for you: Shut the f— up.”

A tour de force moment goes to the best bottoming-out in recent NBA history: New Philly GM Sam Hinkie quickly deciding, The Bynum trade was a horrific event. Let’s embrace that horror, blow things up, stockpile some assets, make ourselves as bad as humanly possible, and take the driver’s seat in Riggin’ for Wiggins. Bravo! BRAVO, SAM HINKIE! Within 12 months, they’re going to have Noel, a top-four lottery pick and (probably) a second lottery pick from New Orleans, along with a gazillion dollars in cap space. I loved their offseason so much that I’m giving myself the next quote.

“Are you gonna propose?”
“Propose?”
“Because if you’re not, quit starin’ at me!”
“I’m starin’ at you?”
“You’re starin’ at me.”

Keep an eye on the Sixers: They landed Hinkie and widely respected CEO Scott O’Neil (who amazingly ran MSG Sports business for FOUR YEARS for Jim Dolan, which is like working for 327 years for someone else), and they actually have a plan and top-to-bottom organizational coherence. Don’t forget, these are the same owners (Josh Harris and David Heller) who hijacked the Sixers for $280 million right before the lockout; to put that in perspective, Sacramento just went for double that. I like everything that’s going on here, especially when Philly fans are historically so nurturing and patient. (Thinking.) You’re right, that part might be a little rough. But I like everything else.

How much is here?
“Neighborhood of 300 thousand.”
“That’s a, a very respectable neighborhood.”

And here’s a very unrespectable neighborhood: Ladies and gents, introducing our eight finalists for Riggin’ for Wiggins! My preseason odds for each team.

Lakers (+700): For these odds to drop, we only need a sentence that starts, “Kobe Bryant suffered a major setback today … ” Plus, wouldn’t it be just like the Lakers to land Wiggins and LeBron in the same summer? I’m moving back to Boston if this happens.

Boston (+500): If Rondo returns sooner than later, I’m worried they’ll be better than everyone thinks. Especially if Brad Stevens does Brad Stevens things: Remember, he took Butler to within a fingernail-of-a-half-court-shot of winning the NCAA title. Name me anyone on that team other than Gordon Hayward. You can’t. If Rondo comes back for Opening Night, there’s a good chance I’m talking myself into 45 wins.

Orlando (+350): You’re betting on Hennigan going Presti 2.0 here. (Presti 1.0 landed Durant second, Westbrook fourth and Harden third in back-to-back-to-back drafts.) Also, I like the tanking possibilities of the “Should we try Oladipo at point guard?” experiment, which (as Henry Abbott smartly pointed out) has shades of Seattle’s “Let’s play Durant at 2-guard!” tactic in 2008, or even the 1997 Celtics playing Antoine Walker at center. Deliberately weakening your team by playing talented guys out of position? Genius! I hope they do this.

Sacramento (+300): Don’t sleep on the Kings flopping in the tougher Western Conference. They have six power forwards (Carl Landry, Jason Thompson, Chuck Hayes, Patrick Patterson, James Johnson and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute), three shooting guards (Marcus Thornton, Ben McLemore and Ray McCallum), three point guards (Greivis Vasquez, Isaiah Thomas and Jimmer Fredette), two washed-up small forwards (Travis Outlaw, John Salmons), one center (Boogie Cousins) and one center that’s Cole Aldrich (Cole Aldrich). It’s like a fantasy team that your drunk buddy drafted, only it’s real life. Maybe that should be their 2013-14 ad campaign.

Utah (+200): You’ll see that Warriors trade pay off in March and April, when Hayward and Favors miss games because of “back pain” and “knee tendinitis” and Trey Burke misses the last four weeks because of “exploratory elbow surgery,” followed by the Jazz happily trotting out a crunch-time five of Biedrins, Enes Kanter, Marvin Williams, Richard Jefferson and John Lucas III. Very very very very tough to not-beat. What about a Karl Malone comeback to really push this over the top? He’s fewer than 1,500 points behind Kareem! BRING BACK THE MAILMAN!10

Charlotte (+200): You can never count MJ’s boys out of anything that involves the words “incompetence,” “bottoming out,” “tanking” or “flagrantly failing with the small chance of being rewarded for it.” Ladies and gentlemen, the greatest basketball player ever, Michael Jordan! Michael Jordan, everybody!

Phoenix (+150): Alex Len coming off a serious stress fracture? Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe butting heads in the same backcourt? The Morris twins? The immortal Michael Beasley? Kendall Marshall’s quest to become the worst top-13 pick since Joe Alexander and Jonny Flynn? Robert Sarver doing cheap-ass Sarver things? Is there a roster you’d want less right now than Phoenix’s roster?

Philly (+120): They’re cruising a few million under the league’s salary floor,11 with no real interest in signing anyone else. (They didn’t even halfheartedly pursue Pekovic.) They haven’t hired a coach yet. Their offense revolves around Evan Turner and Thad Young. They’re bringing in two lottery picks from the worst draft in 13 years — one (Noel) is recovering from major knee surgery, the other (Michael Carter-Williams) can’t shoot and might not even be a point guard. And their organization seems totally fine with sucking as flagrantly as possible. This is gonna be tough to beat, folks.

You know what the last piece of the Riggin’ for Wiggins puzzle is for the Sixers? I have four words for you: that’s right, “Head coach Allen Iverson.”

“Did it ever occur to you that I’m a professional and I have my reasons?”

For Monta Ellis’s agent, Jeff Fried, who allowed his client to walk away from $11 million guaranteed (from Milwaukee) so he could hit the free-agent market. As soon as this happened, I flew to Vegas and tried to get 15 sportsbooks to take action on the wager “Monta Ellis will fire his agent by July 15.” You’re right, I didn’t do that. But Monta DID fire his agent by July 15 and hired Dan Fegan, who roped old buddy Mark Cuban into a face-saving, three-year, $25.08 million deal. There’s a 12 percent chance that Fegan helped Cubes bury a body in the 1990s.

“Where am I? I’m in Boise, Idaho. No, no, no, wait a minute, I’m in Anchorage, Alaska. No, no, wait, I’m in Casper, Wyoming. I’m in the lobby of a Howard Johnson’s and I’m wearing a pink carnation.”

To Cubes, a terrific owner who’s been all over the map since winning in 2011. The Mavs threw away the lockout-shortened season hoping to get CP3, Dwight or Deron (didn’t work), audibled by stockpiling flawed one-year vets in 2012-13 (didn’t work, either), pinned their rebuilding hopes on Dwight (didn’t get him), and now they’re building around an aging Dirk Nowitzki, Rick Carlisle, Ellis, Jose Calderon (signed for four years, $29 million), Vince Carter, Shawn Marion’s expiring contract and about 20 other point guards (won’t work).

For every Celtics fan who’s bitter that the Celtics traded KG and Pierce, at least we get to watch Dallas’s next two inevitable first-round playoff exits and say, “Oh yeah, that’s what would have happened to us if we kept Pierce.” Still, don’t you love that Cuban has Dirk’s back until the bitter end? They don’t want to deal him and rebuild because they want Dirk to be a Mav for life. They can’t bottom out with Dirk and Carlisle aboard, either. So what do you do? Patch some decent pieces around Dirk and keep going. It’s not the smart move, just the loyal one. Hold that thought.

“You’re OK, Jack. I think under different circumstances, you and I probably still would have hated each other! We probably could have been friends.”
“In the next life.”
“Yeah, the next life.”12

My single favorite moment in Midnight Run goes to Pierce, one of the six best Celtics ever and someone who deserved to retire in Boston if that’s what he wanted to do. Which, by the way, he wanted to do. This post-trade interview with Jackie MacMullan was telling …

… a shellshocked Pierce saying, “Look at the other players like Tim Duncan, Kobe, Dirk, you look at all those guys — they win a championship there, similar to what I’ve done. It really kind of hurt, you look throughout the season and Mark Cuban says, ‘We’re never trading Dirk,’ or they say ‘We’re never trading Tim,’ ‘We’re gonna re-sign Kobe,’ and nothing really being said about me. I’m in trade rumors. So that part, you know you think about it, it hurts.”

He’s right. He’s 100 percent right. Paul Pierce never wanted to play anywhere else, and no true Celtics fan wanted to see anything like this.

Brooklyn Nets

But Boston wanted to buy a Riggin’ for Wiggins ticket, so they crippled this year’s team by dealing Pierce and KG for three unprotected first-round picks (2014, 2016, 2018), along with the right to swap first-rounders with Brooklyn in 2017. If anything happens to Brooklyn during the middle of this decade — a real possibility considering Brook Lopez’s injury history, as well as a 32-year-old Deron Williams and a 34-year-old Joe Johnson making $46 million combined during the 2015-16 season — this deal could become the “Gail Goodrich to New Orleans for two future no. 1 picks” trade for this generation.13 It’s the biggest reason why I’m having Joe Johnson and Deron Williams voodoo dolls made next week.

Still, watching Pierce (and, to a lesser degree, KG) play for another franchise is going to be brutal. And I don’t know what the right answer is here. I really don’t. The Celtics allowed Bird, McHale and Parish to age gracefully together once upon a time, followed by eight solid years of misery … and I have to say, I’d sign up for that again. I loved those 1991, 1992 and 1993 teams because of the late Reggie Lewis,14 but also because we kept the Big Three — because we didn’t trade them, and only because they were f-ing Celtics and you don’t trade your guys like that.

Danny Ainge went the other way, just as he always hinted he would because of his experience watching the Big Three grow old. I get it. I understand it. Down the road, I’m sure I will appreciate it. But right now? It hurts like hell. Paul Pierce was our dude. We spent 15 seasons with him in all, and as I wrote after Game 6 of the 2008 Finals, “We watched that guy grow up. We watched him become a man. We believed in him, we gave up on him, and we believed in him again.” Some things are bigger than sports.

I think that’s why Cuban kept Dirk — because they won together in 2011, and because he couldn’t bear the thought of the Best Maverick Ever playing for another team. It might not be the smartest move, but it’s certainly more relatable. Human, even. Watching no. 34 play for the Nets will never feel right, and I will never feel good about it. Alas. See you in the next life, Paul.

Filed Under: NBA, Art, Bill Simmons, General topics, People, Simmons, Sports

screen-shot-2014-01-07-at-7-03-08-am

Bill Simmons is the editor-in-chief of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, click here.

Archive @ BillSimmons

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 381,362 other followers