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Proactively Mourning the NBA

The thrill of Week 7 in the NFL isn't enough to keep the Sports Guy's disappointment in a vanishing NBA season at bay

I am licking my wounds after another slew of lockout talks broke down and the words “BREAKING: The NBA has canceled its 2011-12 season” became a distinct possibility. Things I am already proactively mourning …

1. The KG Era Celtics. RIP. One title, should have had two. I still can’t believe KG got hurt on the alley-oop in 2009. I still can’t believe Perkins went down in Game 6. I still can’t believe we lost Game 7 when the other team’s best player went 6-for-24. I still can’t believe Artest’s 3 went in. I still can’t believe we traded Perkins for Green. Sigh.

2. My Clippers tickets. I was actually looking forward to the Clips this season. Damn it all.

3. Every Blake Griffin alley-oop and subsequent chest bump with DeAndre Jordan.

4. My buddy House paying between $95 and $103 for LeBron in our fantasy auction, then telling everyone, “I don’t care, I have LeBron James on my team.”

5. How fun the whole “Who’s getting Amnesty Clause’d?” week would have been. Wait, Orlando’s trading Hedo and Redick to Atlanta for Joe Johnson, then Orlando is Amnesty-ing Hedo? WHOA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

6. Not being able to make fun of the team that offered Marc Gasol $75 million immediately after we just had a lockout because teams were losing too much money.

7. Durant and Westbrook filming their Stringer/Avon balcony scene, followed by two weeks of “Would you trade Westbrook for Chris Paul even if you weren’t 100 percent sure you could sign Paul?” stories.

8. Scotty Brooks slowly becoming the fall guy for the previous paragraph, followed by weeks and weeks of debate about whether it’s fair that Brooks became the fall guy for the previous paragraph.

9. Kobe’s big comeback season being marred by a week of, “Wait a second, you went to Germany to get that procedure because it’s not legal in the U.S.?” stories.

10. DeMarcus and Jimmer: The new Odd Couple.

11. Jerry Buss’ kid blocking an “Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom for Dwight Howard” trade because he “discovered” Bynum and doesn’t want to give him up, followed by the Lakers making the same deal with Pau Gasol instead of Bynum, followed by the Buss kid ending up with the nickname, “Dolan 2.0” in my inevitable 7,800-word column about being relieved that the Lakers didn’t end up with Kobe, Gasol and Howard.

12. The inevitable Tony Parker trade, followed by all the behind-the-scenes stories about how his team turned on him after the Brent Barry fiasco, followed by everyone being reminded, “Oh wait, you should never trust the French.”

13. Carmelo and Amar’e struggling to coexist, the Knicks struggling in general, and then …

14. Mike D’Antoni and Erik Spoelstra having their “Who has a hotter seat?” contest, followed by the steady onslaught of “Phil Jackson might replace them” rumors, followed by the inevitable week of “Would Riley really hire Phil?” stories, followed by D’Antoni getting canned and Jackson going radio silent for a few days to milk the attention, followed by “BREAKING: Phil Jackson agrees to coach the New York Knicks for $55 million over four years.”

15. Mark Cuban handing out his totally obscene, record-setting-for-their-excess championship rings to the Mavericks and beaming like a kid the entire time.

16. Me, racing to write the “Is this the worst rookie class of all time?” column before John Hollinger does it, losing the contest, then settling on beating him with the “Did Cleveland make one of the biggest draft mistakes ever passing on Derrick Williams?” column.

17. That reminds me — I will miss seeing what I think Derrick Williams could be.

18. And that T-Wolves team in general.

19. And Rubio. Good or bad, it would have been great theater. Especially the Love/Rubio connection.

20. And tweeting “KAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHN!” if it somehow didn’t work out.

21. Deron Williams mysteriously disappearing for 36 hours in December, followed by a press conference in which Williams (with fresh bruises on his face) sits next to Mikhail Prokhorov and announces that he’s inked a lucrative extension to remain with the Nets.

22. Jan Vesely’s girlfriend.

23. LeBron and Wade, Season 2. By not winning the title last season, we were basically renewing the Miami Heat soap opera like it was a great TV show. Now it’s disappeared much like Mad Men disappeared. It’s depressing.

24. The 23,0754 fake Chris Bosh trades I would have entered in the ESPN Trade Machine.

25. The inevitable Eddy “I haven’t been this skinny in six years!” Curry comeback. Is that Eddy Curry? He looks like a young Sam Jackson!

26. Chuck and Kenny.

27. Chuck, Kenny and C-Webb.

28. Either the inevitable “a re-signed Greg Oden for Roy Hibbert and Dahntay Jones” trade or the inevitable “a re-signed Greg Oden for Marcin Gortat” trade, followed by the inevitable “Going back to Indiana could save Greg Oden’s career” or “Phoenix’s training staff could save Greg Oden’s career” stories that will make me say, “You know what? I’m in on the Greg Oden comeback!”

29. The Warriors panicking after a slow start and trading Monta Ellis for 59 cents on the dollar.

30. The Grizzlies panicking after a slow start and trading Rudy Gay for 75 cents on the dollar.

31. Kyle Korver growing out his hair and growing a beard to keep the Ashton Kutcher lookalike thing going.

32. My dad’s annual “I don’t know if I’m renewing my Celtics tickets” e-mail after a discouraging winter home loss to Charlotte. It’s right up there with Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and my Aunt Jen sending me a gift card with a check like I’m 12 years old as one of my four favorite holiday traditions.

33. Writing my annual “Who has the highest trade value?” column, as well as the “Look out, Dirk finally passed Barkley and Malone in the pyramid” column.

34. Writing some innocuous joke about the Blazers that leads to a 375-post thread on Blazers Edge. Actually, I can still do that — what am I saying?

35. Complaining about All-Star Weekend and the slam dunk contest after another mediocre All-Star Weekend and slam dunk contest. It’s become fun to complain about it — it’s like noticing a bad action movie that you know you’ll probably hate, but pay-per-viewing it anyway. Denzel is in this? Did they even advertise it? Man, I can’t resist …

36. The owners finally agreeing on revenue sharing, with local TV revenue being one of the big components … and then, of course, all the big-market teams redoing their TV deals (the Celtics did it already, and the Knicks don’t need to since they already own MSG) so that they own bigger stakes of their local TV stations, making it relatively impossible to figure out exactly how much revenue sharing they’re bringing in and defeating much of the purpose of sharing local TV revenue. It’s always fun when rich people screw over other rich people.

37. Derrick Rose’s mustache hopefully inspiring a little billy goat goatee.

38. My buddy Mendelson profusely thanking me because I implored him right before the shortened preseason to buy as many John Wall and James Harden rookie cards on eBay as possible.

39. Billy Hunter announcing his retirement five years ago.

40. David Stern announcing his retirement five years ago.

41. Tuesday nights with 12 games going on, my kids being crazy and my wife giving me 320 “So I guess you’re not helping out tonight, huh?” glares.

42. Daryl Morey’s first “You know who’s coming on? Hasheem Thabeet!” tweet.

43. The Bulls either totally regretting that they didn’t use their Amnesty on Carlos Boozer, or being totally relieved that they didn’t use their Amnesty on Boozer, with no in-between.

44. Stephen Jackson buying Latrell Sprewell’s old boat in Milwaukee.

45. Latrell Sprewell dating Stephen Jackson’s ex so he can make a few cameos on Basketball Wives: L.A.

46. Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors making Al Jefferson expendable in Utah, followed by the Pistons flipping Ben Gordon and Austin Daye for him.

47. The inevitable Yao Ming comeback and all the ’86 Walton comparisons if he’s playing for a contender.

48. My dad talking himself in and out of Jeff Green somewhere between 230 and 3,299 times during the course of the season.

49. Sacramento getting its stadium done, Sacramento saving the Kings … and Kevin Johnson finally coming through in the clutch. (Inside joke for Phoenix fans.)

50. Rip Hamilton’s inevitable resurgence after he gets Amnesty’ed and signs with the Bulls, followed by a week of “How did we forget that Rip Hamilton thrives on a smart team and is useless on a bad team?” stories.

51. Steve Nash finally snapping like Pvt. Pyle and publicly pushing for a trade to a contender.

52. The possibility that Oklahoma City could be that contender. Nash, Westbrook, Durant, Harden, Perkins and Ibaka???????

53. Duncan’s last stand. And probably, Popovich’s last stand.

54. Brandon Roy getting Amnesty’ed, being bummed out for about three weeks … then reinventing himself as a game-changing third guard on a contender.

55. Those random nights when three straight awesome crunch-times happen within a frantic span of 45 minutes, with my buddy Hirschy’s inevitable “Are you watching?” text happening somewhere along the lines.

56. The 2012 playoffs. Which would have been even better than the 2011 playoffs. Fuck.

I’m going to stick my head in the oven. Let’s rip through the Week 7 NFL picks …

(Home Teams in Caps.)

Redskins (+2.5) over PANTHERS
Perplexing line: What’s shakier, Carolina’s defense or John Beck? It’s a toss-up, right? My not-really-an-upset special, Part 1: Redskins 25, Panthers 20.

Allow me one last retroactive Rex Grossman point: Last week’s Eagles debacle was his fifth career start with zero touchdowns and 3-plus interceptions — really, there’s no way to define a true QB stinker better than that — which inspired me to sift through to determine which QB should have the 0 TD/3+ INTs game named after him. Initially, I thought it would be Rex … but had only five career games that qualified. (I know, I was shocked, too. I thought the number would be like, 25.) Meanwhile, Jake Plummer finished with nine career 0 TD/3+ INT games, and Jake Delhomme finished with four alone during an incredible 14-month stretch from October ’08 through November ’09 (not including his infamous 1 TD, 5 INT playoff stink bomb against the ’08 Cardinals). My final verdict: Any 0 TD/3+ INT game should be called “The Jake.”1

Seahawks (+3) over BROWNS
Walk through this one with me. The Browns lucked out with their first five weeks: Andy Dalton’s first Cincy start, the Manning-less Colts, the free-falling Dolphins, a decent Titans team, then Kyle Boller’s falling into their laps in Oakland … and somehow they’re 2-3. Not a good sign. Also not good: The offense is averaging 3.3 yards per run and 5.5 yards per pass attempt, which basically says, “We need to execute a series of long, boring drives to win football games while getting no big plays whatsoever.” Meanwhile, the Seahawks played a much better slew of teams (Niners, Steelers, Cardinals, Falcons and Giants) and found an identity in those past three games. What’s that identity? Rock-solid mediocrity. But still. My not-really-an-upset special, Part 2: Seahawks 20, Browns 10.

Falcons (+3.5) over LIONS
Going less with the Falcons and more against an increasingly shaky-looking Lions team: They have the worst running backs in the league with Jahvid Best out, no possession receiver for those third-and-8s, no rush defense at all … just seems like Atlanta is catching them at the right time. Remember, the Niners threw a 25-9 run on the Lions to close out last Sunday’s game — that was the third time in four weeks that someone had a +16 run against Detroit. Good teams don’t get beat for prolonged stretches like that. In other news …

A. Jim Schwartz’s performance in the epic Schwartz/Harbaugh handshake reminded me of Will Ferrell’s snapping in SNL’s classic “Family Dinner” sketch. You don’t shake my hand like that! You don’t shake my hand like that! I’m a professional football coach! I manage 10 coaches and 53 players! I-I-I I drive a Dodge Stratus!!!!!!

B. Is there any doubt that we’re getting a Lions-Niners playoff game in Round 1? Get ready to see that handshake 245,0673 more times during the first full week in January.

BUCS (+1) over Bears
Thought the Bucs looked like the Bucs against New Orleans last week: Freeman was throwing deep and doing Freeman things, their cornerbacks were jumping pass routes, guys were flying around … that’s what I thought we were getting from them in 2011. They’ll need that intensity playing in front of 80,000 catatonic fans in London. Meanwhile, I don’t like what’s going on with the Bears behind the scenes. At all.

TITANS (-3) over Texans
The Chris Johnson fantasy breakout week! I swear, it’s coming! No, really! Just be patient!

JETS (+2) over Chargers
Like everyone else, I looked at this matchup on Monday, thought to myself, I love the Chargers … and then the line started moving … and it kept moving … and at some point, it started to look like a trap. Put it this way: Has anyone blown more winnable games than San Diego over the past few years? And has anyone ever lucked into more garbage victories than the Jets over the past two-plus seasons? This feels like one of those “Rivers throws for 435 yards and three killer red zone picks” games, followed by LDT and Cromartie celebrating a little too lustily when it’s over, then everyone getting mad that they celebrated a little too lustily, followed by the Chargers lobbing some grenades at them after the fact. This will be fun.2

Broncos (PK) over DOLPHINS
Miami took the “Suck for Luck” campaign to new heights by celebrating the 2008 Gators during this game (a thinly veiled way to load the stadium with Tebow fans). Did you see the Dolphins are 1-11 in their past 12 home games? It’s starting to feel like the first 20 minutes of a sports movie; we’re almost at the part when the Dolphin players find out that Stephen Ross is doing everything he can to ruin their season, capped off by him signing (fill in washed-up QB here, just make sure he’s being played by Keanu Reeves), only Keanu quit drinking and has one last comeback in him, and doggone it, this Dolphins team is coming together! (Thinking.) You’re right, they’re headed for 0 and 16.

Chiefs (+6) over RAIDERS
Giving away a first and a second pick for Carson Palmer was like paying full sticker price on a 2006 BMW M3 with 165,000 miles on it. This will end badly. My upset special: Chiefs 24, Raiders 20. Meanwhile, can anyone else see this exchange happening during ESPN’s Halloween Monday Night Countdown show:

Steve Young: “Guys, if the Chiefs beat San Diego at home tonight, suddenly they’re looking at a share of the AFC West lead with easy home games against Miami and Denver coming up. Who could have guessed that four weeks ago?????”

Trent Dilfer: “That’s why you can never count anyone out after two weeks in the National Football League!!!!!”

Stu Scott: “Guys, the Chiefs and Chargers have played on Monday night 23 times. All 23 times, the team that scored the most points won the game. We’ll be back after this.”

Steelers (-4) over CARDINALS
A fork-in-the-road game for Arizona. To the left: an inspired effort coming off the bye week, a loud crowd, a fired-up defense and a couple of Kolb-Fitzy hookups. To the right: another depressing loss, the NFC West slipping away and doubts about the Kolb era deepening. I’m going right.

Rams (+13) over COWBOYS
Just enough “I don’t care if they’re 2-3, I still think Dallas is the best team in the NFC East” chatter that you know the Boys will make their fans sweat this one out. By the way …

1. Nuclear fusion makes more sense than the NFL trade deadline. How can Brandon Lloyd (a top-five fantasy guy last year) be worth a conditional fifth-round pick? How can Carson Palmer be worth one first-round pick, much less (potentially) two? I don’t think there’s been an NFL trade in the past 10 years that didn’t hurt my head.

2. Earlier this week (after Dallas blatantly tried to clinch the Pats game without putting it in Tony Romo’s hands), Jason Garrett told the media, “There is absolutely no issue in my trust level with Tony Romo.” I don’t think there’s any good scenario involving someone saying “There is absolutely no issue in my trust level with … ” about someone else, whether it’s your wife, husband, executive assistant, agent, quarterback …

Colts (+13) over SAINTS
As a Patriots fan and longtime Colts hater, I’m starting to get pissed off about this “Colts stumbling into Andrew Luck” thing. Really, this Colts free fall couldn’t have happened before the JaMarcus Russell draft?

Packers (-9) over VIKINGS
Ravens (+8.5) over JAGUARS

Poor Christian Ponder. And poor Blaine Gabbert.

Last thing: In Wednesday’s column, I finished a prolonged section about the NBA’s big-picture economic problems (not the straight economic issues they’re arguing about right now, but the deeper issues, namely, how they’re going to reshape this league economically now that consumer behavior is working against them) by bringing up every big-picture issue that transcends this lockout and wondering, “Where’s the big-picture leadership here? What’s the right number of franchises? Where should those franchises play? What’s worse, losing three franchises or losing an entire season of basketball? What’s really important here? I don’t trust the players’ side to make the right choices, because they are saddled with limited intellectual capital. (Sorry, it’s true.) The owners’ side can’t say the same; they should be ashamed. Same for the agents. And collectively, they should all be mortified that a 16-hour negotiating session, this late in the game, was cause for any celebration or optimism.”

Look, I know how it works in the Twitter era: It’s easy to tweet “Simmons thinks the NBA players have ‘limited intellectual capital,'” have others retweet this, and eventually, you end up with (a) an actual NBA player (in this case, Anthony Tolliver) wondering, “Bill Simmons said that the @NBPA & NBA players have ‘limited intellectual capital’ …wow! Does he think that we cant read between the lines?”, (b) some “scholar” playing the race card (just painful to read — I can’t even link to it, I won’t do that to you), and (c) a business blogger named Mary Adams lecturing me (did she even check to see what the context was?) about my ignorance with the phrase “intellectual capital.”

So I’m ignorant because I don’t think NBA players will be the ones creating a new economic model for the NBA? What are their qualifications to do such a thing? If they’re so financially savvy, why do they need agents to negotiate their deals? Why have we made such a big fuss these past 10 years over how many athletes (not just NBA players) are going broke? Why should we expect them to have an advantage negotiating against a bunch of billionaires who have law degrees and MBAs and make big-picture deals all the time? As my friend Whitlock wrote earlier this week, “Stern has been balling in the basketball boardroom for three decades. The players look as out of place barging into meetings and negotiating with Stern and his lawyers as Stern and his lawyers would challenging Fisher, Wade, Garnett and Pierce on the court.”

From day one, the players have approached this lockout like it’s a competition — they don’t want to be beaten, they’re not rolling over, they’re staying strong and all that macho bullshit. It’s all small-picture stuff. When’s the last time you heard someone from the players’ side say, “Maybe the owners are right, maybe we should work with them to create a better system?” Where are the Bill Russells, the Bill Bradleys, the Oscar Robertsons, the Phil Jacksons, the Bob Cousys and Tommy Heinsohns — thoughtful stars pushing for real change instead of just pretending to be tough at a meeting? Where are the guys who stood up before the 1964 All-Star Game in Boston and basically said, “The current system is broken and needs to change NOW, or we’re not playing?” Where is this generation’s Larry Fleisher, a brilliant legal mind who can successfully look out for the players while also helping to shape the league’s bigger picture? Seriously, where is he?

If we’re relying on someone to create a new economic model to save the league, don’t expect it to be the players; it’s outside their means. That’s what I wrote. I would have written the same thing about NHL players, NFL players or MLB players, and by the way, I wrote the same thing four years ago about the Writers Guild when they were dumb enough to give away four-plus months of paychecks because they were so obsessed with guaranteeing themselves a piece of Internet revenue going forward … only Internet revenue hadn’t even come close to fully forming into anything yet. (That’s why I compared the NBA players to the Hollywood writers over and over again these past few months.) If you remember, the larger point of Wednesday’s column was this: The two sides should split the difference on every issue, come to a two-year détente, start playing basketball again, then spend those next two years building a better economic model that puts everyone in a better place … and if they don’t, many fans will move on, and some of them might not come back.

If the players want to create that model, God bless ’em. I haven’t seen any inkling from them these past few months that they’re thinking that way — they’re all about protecting their BRI, midlevel exception and contract lengths. Again, small-picture stuff. (It’s unclear if they even realize that, by missing two months of paychecks, it’s impossible for them to get that money back no matter what the deal is. And they’re definitely being manipulated by agents with two sets of agendas — the ones who want salaries for stars to keep rising, and the ones who want to protect the salaries of the middle-class guys. There is no common ground. You can’t have both. If we’re cutting player revenue, one of those two groups will suffer.) Even during the most spirited round of talks between owners and players this week, by all accounts, it was the owners (Mark Cuban, James Dolan, Jerry Buss and Micky Arison, all of whom Billy Hunter mentioned positively in his press conference yesterday) coming up with ambitious ideas to blow things up and take the league in a different direction (including one owner who basically wanted to abolish the salary cap entirely) as well as Paul Allen and some of the small market owners who reportedly undermined that momentum before it had a chance to flourish.

We have heard little (if any) of that brainstorming coming from the players or Hunter. They’re all about “holding the line” and “not bending” and “staying at 53” … meanwhile, they keep forgetting that they have no leverage whatsoever, nor can they take a hint that they’re dealing with a bunch of ruthless rich dudes who will absolutely murder the 2011-12 season to get what they want. (The owners lied this whole time. They WANT to miss games. They always did. That was always the plan. The one time they nearly broke and caved the most — two weeks ago — the players blew that window with their ill-fated “we’re gonna have KG, Paul and Kobe handle this” plan.) It’s no different than the writers holding tough against Hollywood in 2008. And, eventually, losing. Those writers lacked the same intellectual capital to shape their business in a big-picture way that the NBA players lack right now, or that the NHL players will lack next year when they get locked out. Of course, here’s how Mary Adams described the intellectual capital of players:

“Players bring all four kinds of knowledge to the table: their own knowledge and experience; their fans and relationships with teams; their contributions to playbooks and team operations plus their contributions on media like Twitter; their packaging as players and media figures.”

Um, what does that have to do with creating a new economic model for the NBA again? Mary keeps going: “You could do the same analysis of owners and agents. In fact, when you look at things this way, you’ll see that each group brings different pieces of the whole to the table. The reason that the players, agents and owners are all at the table together is that they need each other. And they do bring different knowledge to the table.”

Totally agree. But how do those skills lead to players being the ones who actually create a better economic model? Allow me to twist Mary’s words around and read between the lines like she did: “If these sides stop fighting over small-picture stuff and concentrate instead on blowing up the system and creating a better one, the players have to chip in by giving their input on fans, teams, playbooks, social media and brand packaging.” You know, because the immortal “Let us play!” social media campaign was such a roaring success.

I stand by what I wrote on Wednesday: If there’s legitimate big-picture progress to be made — sweeping, change-the-way-NBA-business-is-done stuff — it’s going to come from the owners and agents, as well as David Stern and Billy Hunter. Yes, the four parties who put us in this mess in the first place.

(In other words, we’re screwed.)

Last Week: 4-7-2
Season: 45-40-5

Bill Simmons is the Editor in Chief of Grantland and the author of the recent New York Times no. 1 best-seller The Book of Basketball, now out in paperback with new material and a revised Hall of Fame Pyramid. For every Simmons column and podcast, log on to Grantland. Follow him on Twitter and check out his new home on Facebook.

Previously from Bill Simmons:

Behind the Pipes: Into the Arms of the NHL
Avoiding the Lockout and the Red Sox
We Need a Renegade Basketball League
A Running Diary of Game 162
Welcome to Amnesty 2.0 in the NBA
NFL Preview: It’s All About Continuity
Summer of Mailbag V: Passing the Buck
Summer of Mailbag IV: Dawn of the Mailbag
Summer of Mailbag III: Attack of the Mailbag!
The Glorious Return of the Mailbag
Summer of Mailbag: The Revenge

To submit questions for next week’s mailbag, click here; to comment on this story through Facebook, click here.

Filed Under: Bill Simmons, NBA, People, Simmons, Sports

Bill Simmons is the founding editor 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.

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