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The NBA’s Midnight Run, Part 1

Bill Simmons breaks down everything that has gone down in the offseason, with a little help from a timeless ’80s classic.

Dwight Howard

When Alan Sepinwall tweeted about Midnight Run‘s 25th anniversary two weekends ago, I did a quadruple take. Twenty-five years? How could that be? Top Gun seems like it came out a million years ago. So does The Breakfast Club, so does Wall Street, Fatal Attraction, The Killing Fields, Coming to America, and every other memorable mainstream ’80s movie. Midnight Run? It’s an outlier, a timeless classic, our least-dated ’80s movie.

Watching it all these years later, only a couple things feel rusty: The cars, the lack of cell phones, Robert De Niro’s cheesy leather jacket, the relentless cigarette smoking and, most strikingly, the fact that anyone could bring guns on airplanes like they were Altoids. Everything else feels fresh. It’s just as funny as it was 25 years ago, the action moves briskly, and the chemistry between De Niro (as bounty hunter Jack Walsh) and Charles Grodin (as the Duke, an on-the-lam accountant who stole $15 million from a mob boss) remains ridiculously good.

When I retweeted Sepinwall and added “Is this Moron Number One? Put Moron Number Two on the phone” (one of Dennis Farina’s many classic moments), my Twitter replies quickly filled with other Farina one-liners. That made me wonder if I’d found the right medium for my annual “Movie Quotes As Awards” breakdown of the NBA’s busiest offseason month. Two days later, Farina passed away at 69.1 Now it had to happen.


1.

Grantland’s Alex Pappademas wrote a nice tribute to Farina last week.

Quickly on Farina: I first remember him during Season 1 of Miami Vice, when he played a wisecracking mob boss named Albert Lombard. By the end of his last episode, you liked him, you feared him, you laughed with him and, strangely, you wanted him to stay alive. (Retroactive spoiler alert: He didn’t.) NBC jumped on the momentum by giving him the leading role in Crime Story, an innovative cop drama that never made it. Two years later, he stole every one of his scenes in Midnight Run and could have been nominated for an Oscar, but since Academy Awards voters don’t respect or appreciate comedies, astonishingly, nobody from Run got nominated for anything.

At that point, you would have bet anything that Farina was going to become a star — a funnier James Gandolfini, basically — only it never happened. That’s Hollywood for you. Some people never find the right part, and there’s more luck involved than you’d think. Once upon a time, David Chase agonized about casting Gandolfini or Michael Rispoli as Tony Soprano. Had Rispoli ended up with that role, there’s a good chance we’re remembering Gandolfini as the unforgettable bad guy in True Romance and that’s it. Farina never landed his Sopranos-like break, but Midnight Run‘s Jimmy Serrano lives on and on. He’s one of the best things in one of the most rewatchable, funny movies ever made. This column is dedicated to him.

Last note: No movie used more F-bombs more effectively than Midnight Run. As much as it kills me, I’m dashing out all those F-bombs for this column, just because of their sheer volume.2 And if you don’t like it, I have two words for you.


2.

There are so many F-bombs in Midnight Run that some YouTuber made a 139-second compilation clip of them.

Without further ado, here’s Part 1 of winners and losers from the NBA’s most hectic month.

“Marvin! Marvin! Look out!”

One of the movie’s best running jokes (Jack Walsh repeatedly tricking a rival bounty hunter into turning around so Jack can sucker punch him) goes to the Thunder, who keep allowing their title chances to get sucker punched because of their irrational love of Kendrick Perkins. Have you ever impulsively bought a piece of furniture you didn’t really need — like a coffee table or something — and within three weeks, you begrudgingly realize that it doesn’t fit in with everything else in the house? And that you blew it? And should stick that dumb purchase in the garage, where it belongs? But you get all stubborn about it, so that coffee table lingers in your house for an extra three years before you finally suck it up and do something about it?

That’s Perkins for Sam Presti. He had multiple chances to stick Perk in the garage and just wouldn’t do it.3 Last October, they shopped James Harden over just doing nothing, making one more title run, and then either (a) trading him, or (b) keeping him and amnestying Perkins. (Mistake No. 1.) Then, they dealt Harden for 50 cents on the dollar4 without forcing Houston to take Perk’s contract in the trade. (Mistake No. 2.) And this summer, they never amnestied two years and $17.6 million of Perk to add some much-needed free-agent shooting. (Mistake No. 3.)


3.

A Perk defender would say that Perk has one undeniable skill: He can guard Dwight Howard better than anyone. My response: Do you really need to pay someone $9 million a year to defend someone who takes 11 shots a game and misses 50 percent of his free throws?

4.

Now that the trade has shaken out (Harden for one year of Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, Steven Adams and a future Dallas no. 1 pick) it’s actually 20 cents on the dollar. They gave away the best 2-guard in basketball for two bench players and a pick. Yikes. I’ve said more than enough about this trade, but it continues to amaze me.

It’s mystifying, even if Zach Lowe explained on Grantland today why the Thunder fight to save every dollar — to the degree that they infuriated a slew of teams by getting a cushy, retroactive “Thanks, Uncle David!” ruling on Durant’s extension that saved them $15 million. (That’s why I still find it bizarre that they didn’t shoehorn Perkins’s deal into that Harden trade. And, hey, here’s an idea if you’re worried about money — don’t move from the 14th-biggest TV market to the 45th-biggest TV market.) Anyway, there’s a 22 percent chance that Royce Young will release a best-selling book in 2035 called The Curse of the Perkino.

(Back to the above quote: Midnight Run set the unofficial record for “Most Guys Knocked Unconscious In The Same Movie.” Marvin gets knocked out four different times; he’s definitely unemployed and living in a dark apartment with all the shades pulled down. The Duke gets knocked out twice. And Moron No. 1 and Moron No. 2 both get knocked out. That’s right … EIGHT KNOCKOUTS! Actually, that’s the most dated thing about Midnight Run — the lack of concussion awareness. I think this movie was directed by Roger Goodell.)

Am I lucky or am I just good? F—in’-A, I’m the best!!!

One of Marvin’s best quotes goes to the Pacers, who kept David West at a fair price (three years, $36 million); brought back the Basketball Jesus (infinity years, a lifetime of basketball salvation); re-signed Frank Vogel (and just in time, because the post-Doc Celtics would have jumped on him); laid some major “Hey, Paul George, we have 80 million reasons we think you should stay” groundwork; and improved a comically ineffective bench by importing Chris Copeland, Luis Scola, and C.J. Watson. Oh, and either Danny Granger or Danny Granger’s Expiring Contract is coming back — they’ll get an asset either way. Translation: The Pacers are going to contend for the title again. That wasn’t a one-year fluke.

(By the way, I don’t know why the guy who plays Marvin didn’t become, at the very least, the star of a funny sitcom, and I don’t know if he’s That Guy Who Played Marvin Dorfler or That Guy Who Played Billy Rosewood’s Partner. But Midnight Run was really an extravaganza of Those Guys, especially 25 years ago, when we knew Farina only as That Guy From Miami Vice and Crime Story and Joe Pantaliano as That Guy Who Played Guido The Killer Pimp. Other That Guys in Run include That Guy Who Eventually Became Yaphet Kotto; That Guy Who Played Angela’s Dad in My So-Called Life; That Guy Who Keeps Getting The Doughnuts; That Guy Who Played Jack Horner’s Boss in Boogie Nights; and That Guy And The Other Guy Who Played Moron No. 1 and Moron No. 2.)5


5.

The best scene with Moron No. 1 and Moron No. 2: when they’re at the phone booth and Moron No. 1 is getting yelled at by Jimmy as an oblivious Moron No. 2 is fake-punching him. This movie is filled with sneaky-great moments like that one. So good.

I’m gonna tell ya something. I want this guy taken out, and I want him taken out fast. You and that other dummy better start getting more personally involved in your work, or I’m gonna stab you through the heart with a f—-ing pencil.”

To Larry Legend again — he quickly dumped every recent Indy move he didn’t make (D.J. Augustin, Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee), and he didn’t even have to stab GM Kevin Pritchard with a f—ing pencil. Much respect to Larry’s Pacers for assembling a legitimate contender despite (a) the crippling aftereffects of the Artest melee, (b) everyone in Indiana turning on the team and professional basketball in general, (c) being a small-market team that could never pay the tax under any circumstances, and (d) never picking higher than 10th. Degree of difficulty there: 9.89 out of 10. Now if he can only convince Paul George to switch to no. 13 so we can call him PG-13. Come on. How hard is this?

“Can I at least have some French fries?”
“I said no, pecker breath, now shut up.”

One of my favorite throwaway exchanges goes to my favorite throwaway revelation of the summer: George telling Slam Magazine about the time Larry Legend showed up for a Pacers practice, “picked a ball up that had rolled over,” then “rolled up his sleeves and made about 15 in a row and just walked out like nothing just happened,” adding, “We were speechless. We didn’t know whether to keep shooting or just to end practice. It was sweet, man.” The Legend!

Is this Moron No. 1? Put Moron No. 2 on the phone.

So Minnesota finally dumped David Kahhhhhhhhn and replaced him with Flip Saunders, who promptly traded a quarter (Trey Burke) for a dime (Shabazz Muhammad) and a nickel (Gorgui Dieng), then spent $61 million on three role players (Kevin Martin, Chase Budinger and Corey Brewer). By Timberwolvey standards, those moves weren’t THAT bad; they might actually turn out to be half-decent. I mean, except for the part where they gave away Trey Burke to beef up their D-League team. Regardless … PROGRESS! It’s the first T-Wolves offseason in nine years that doesn’t make us feel like we’re watching a car skid off an icy road.

“Where’s Jack Walsh?”
“He got off with the other guy … his real name’s Mosely.”
“I’M MOSELY!”

One of the movie’s funniest moments goes to one of this summer’s least-funny developments: The feel-good Nuggets morphing back into Just Another NBA Franchise. No more Masai Ujiri, no more George Karl, no Andre Iguodala, no Danilo Gallinari for at least half the season, no more of those “ridiculously loaded from 1 through 10” narratives. I knew we were in trouble when they traded Kosta Koufos to get JaVale McGee more minutes. I wouldn’t give JaVale anything with the word “more” in it — and I mean anything. If you’re searching for an incumbent Western playoff team that could drop into the lottery and isn’t owned by Jimmy Buss, look no further.

I knew you had money. I didn’t know you HAD money.

To the Maloofs, only because it’s a quote that absolutely nobody was uttering about them these past few years. Actually, let’s give them one more.

“You don’t look much like a criminal.”
“I’m a white-collar criminal.”

What the Maloofs did to Sacramento basketball wasn’t technically a crime … just a crime against everything sports should be about. The family couldn’t afford to run an NBA franchise anymore, but they couldn’t stand the thought of not owning one, either. So they spent the past few years running the Kings into the ground, cheaping out in every conceivable way, and trying to figure out how to cash out while maintaining majority control. Like that could ever happen. (Note: I wrote about this farce in April 2011.) All along, they kept claiming that they needed a new arena, when, really, they just wanted more money and didn’t care where it came from: Sacramento, Seattle, Louisville, Virginia Beach, Qatar, you name it.

A few years earlier, Frank McCourt stumbled into beachfront baseball property (the Dodgers) by fibbing about his net worth, then nearly gutted one of baseball’s most famous franchises before turning the whole charade into a massive profit. The Maloofs weren’t nearly that wicked: They started out with good intentions, even thriving for a few years before their other investments crippled them. But like McCourt, they made out in the end, getting $84 million more for the Kings than Joe Lacob paid for the Warriors. Whaaaaaaaaaaaat? Never have the words “dumb luck” been more appropriate. Hold on, one more quote for them.

Sidney, relax. Have a cream soda. Everything is gonna be all over with in a few minutes.”

To the poor Kings fans, who thought they lost their team not once but twice. This e-mail from Sacramento reader Michael Burkhard summed everything up: “The Maloofs were like the neighbor down the street who never mowed the lawn, left a 1981 Chevy on blocks in their driveway, and had the police called in twice for domestic disputes. Then they sold their property for twice the normal market price. Does the league not see a problem with this?” Wait, Michael just inspired another quote.

“SERRANO’S GOT THE DISKS! SERRANO’S GOT THE DISKS! SERRANO’S GOT THE DISKS!!!”

The flimsiest plan in the movie (Jack Walsh somehow talking the FBI into trying that crazy airport plan to catch Serrano, then pulling it off) goes to David Stern’s flimsiest plan, which could be summarized like this …

1. Allow the Sonics to move to Oklahoma City (and ruin basketball in Seattle).
2. Don’t allow the Kings to move to Seattle (so we don’t ruin basketball in Sacramento).
3. Keep Seattle open as an ongoing threat to every other NBA team that doesn’t get an arena deal done.

In other words, Stern turned Seattle’s NBA situation into Los Angeles’s NFL situation — a lucrative potential market that helps the league more if nobody ever actually moves there. Seattle owner-in-limbo Chris Hansen was willing to badly overpay for the Kings and didn’t get them. You would think the league would jump at this and say, “Wow, we gotta get this guy a team! What about Milwaukee or Charlotte?” Nope. And he’s not getting an expansion team, because the other 30 teams would never give up an extra fraction of their TV rights — what do they care if Seattle has a basketball team or not? This situation sucks. I hate it. The Seattle SuperSonics should exist.

“I have to tell you, a restaurant is a very tricky investment — over half of them go out of business in the first six months. If I were your accountant, I’d have to strongly advise you against it.”
“You’re not my accountant.”
“I realize I’m not your accountant. [Pause.] I’m just saying … if I were your accountant … “

To Dwight Howard, our trickiest investment of the summer of 2013. I covered every reason why I’d be afraid to pay him max money last May, but kudos to Dwight for making a clever basketball decision. He wagered on a top-10 player (James Harden); a top-five GM (Daryl Morey); a good owner (Leslie Alexander); the chance to re-create what he had with the 2009 Magic (who surrounded him with quality outside shooters who opened up the paint for him); and a city that gives him a decent chance to break Calvin Murphy’s “most kids by the most women” NBA record (in progress). He also avoided a potential train wreck in Los Angeles. And he picked a football-first city that won’t obsess over everything he’s doing (something he clearly can’t handle).

But what if he’s never going to be anything beyond the player we watched last season, a 17-13 guy with no offensive touch who isn’t a dominant defender anymore? Can you build a title contender around someone who isn’t obsessed with winning and doesn’t raise his game when it matters, but does want every spoil that goes with being a superstar? Ideally, you want Dwight as your second-best guy: He handles the rebounding and defense (as well as any goofy interview that seems funny on paper but actually isn’t), while someone else carries you offensively and creates every shot for you late. Does HE want that? And what if 2011 Force Of Nature Dwight is just gone? It’s a tricky investment to say the least.6


6.

I wouldn’t want to be paying Dwight $20 million–plus in 2017, well after his prime, when his body will be in worse shape than it’s in now. Thanks to the Harden/Howard contracts and every other cap restriction, Houston might have a two-year title window, and that’s it. Better than no title window, though.

“This thing is gonna give me a heart attack before it’s over. I know I’m gonna get a heart attack.”

To Morey, who rebuilt the Rockets into a championship contender without bottoming out, finishing under .500 or getting a top-seven lottery pick. Last summer, as he stubbornly stuck to his “I’m just gonna keep collecting assets and this is gonna work out, I swear!” plan, it seemed more likely that his 2014 tagline would read “Daryl Morey writes three columns a week for Grantland” than “Daryl Morey is the GM of the Houston Rockets, who just clinched the no. 1 seed in the West.” But he jumped on the still-inexplicable Harden fire sale, carved out enough cap room for Dwight AND landed him … and now we’re here. You know what’s crazy, though?

“Hey, nothing personal, Jack, but f— off.”

To Chris Paul, who basically told the Clippers that after they squashed the first incarnation of their Doc Rivers trade. Chris didn’t like that. He let them know he was heading to Houston to team up with Dwight. And he wasn’t kidding. For about 36 hours, Morey probably felt like all 11 guys in Ocean’s Eleven. You know what happened next: The Clippers blinked, the Doc trade got revived and finished, and the Clippers were offering Chris 107 million reasons to play for him. Crisis averted. The lesson, as always: Chris Paul runs the Clippers.

(Cut to Vinny Del Negro nodding wistfully.)

Don’t say a word to me, Sidney, don’t say a f—ing word to me. I’ll get up and I’ll bury this telephone in your head.”

One of Farina’s funniest lines goes to Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, both of whom unfollowed Dwight on Twitter after he signed with the Rockets. I loved that so much. Only the NBA can turn into the eighth grade at the flip of a hat. Of all the reasons it’s a shame they didn’t have Twitter when Wilt Chamberlain played (the DM booty calls ranking first, obviously), the thought of Wilt’s teammates or former teammates angrily unfollowing him has to rank right up there. And yet …

“You put Marvin on this case, you f—ing piece of shit? You f—ing deceptive — YOU VERMIN! YOU SLIMEBALL IN A SEA OF PUS!”

Is anyone else still saddened that Kobe didn’t crush Dwight on Twitter after the Rockets announcement? I’ve never been more excited for somebody’s next tweet. Even something short and sweet like “Houston, you have a problem” would have worked. Hey, Kobe, I know you’re spending the summer lounging in a hyperbaric-chamber hot tub filled with deer-antler spray and platelet-massaged hemoglobin, but would one spiteful tweet have killed you?

“We’re starving and you’re buying cigarettes?”
“I need these cigarettes.”

And I need to break down complicated “What ifs.” Now that Howard’s situation is settled, it’s clear that David Stern’s 2011 veto of the Chris Paul trade unleashed more league-altering “What ifs” than just about anything that’s happened since 2003’s “What if Memphis had gotten the no. 1 pick instead of Cleveland?”

If Stern allows the initial three-team trade, then (a) the Lakers remain contenders; (b) it’s much more likely Dwight stays in L.A.; (c) Houston gets Pau Gasol and doesn’t keep enough leftover assets to make the Harden trade;7 (d) OKC can’t find the right Harden trade, keeps him and maybe wins the title last year; (e) maybe the incredible Heat-Spurs Finals never happens; (f) maybe OKC deals Harden last month to Cleveland for a Godfather offer along the lines of “the no. 1 and no. 19 picks plus Dion Waiters,” then takes Victor Oladipo first; (g) Lob City never happens; (h) Doc Rivers never jumps from Boston to the Clippers; (i) the Celtics probably don’t blow things up (and make Brooklyn better); (j) instead of bottoming out and landing Anthony Davis, the 2012 Hornets end up being half-decent (which blows up the 2012 AND 2013 drafts, too); and (k) Kobe doesn’t play too many minutes last season (and maybe he doesn’t blow out his Achilles, and maybe Kareem’s scoring record would be in real jeopardy … )


7.

Remember, Houston sent Goran Dragic, Kevin Martin and Luis Scola plus their 2012 no. 1 to New Orleans in that deal.

That was a Whatifnado! I have to chainsaw myself out of this paragraph!

“Serrano is the heroin dealer you told me about in Chicago? That’s the guy that’s gonna kill me? Hope it’s a wonderful coffee shop, Jack.”

An underrated moment (the Duke putting everything together, then nailing Jack with the withering coffee-shop zinger) goes to my most underrated bargain moves of the offseason: Copeland to Indy (cheap shooting), Nate Robinson to Denver (cheap irrational confidence), Belinelli to the Spurs (cheap playmaking), Mike Miller to Memphis (super-cheap shooting), Mike Dunleavy to Chicago (my pickup doppelgänger!), Reggie Williams to Houston (always liked him), and Port— actually, Rip City deserve its own quote.

“Let me describe the scene to you: There are these guys, see? They’ve probably been up for like two days; they stink of BO; they have coffee breath; they’re constipated from sittin’ on their asses for so long; they’re sitting in a van, and they’re probably parked right up the street from your office … Eddie, YOUR PHONE IS TAPPED!”

The Blazers heard everyone bitching about their reprehensible bench and did something about it, shrewdly adding Thomas Robinson, Dorell Wright, Robin Lopez and rookies C.J. McCollum and Allan Crabbe. (In particular, I loved the Robinson move and remain confused why teams weren’t jumping on a top-five pick who was being fire-saled by Houston to create enough cap space for Dwight. The best way to stumble into NBA talent? Steal a high lottery pick who’s available for dumb reasons. Well, unless his name is Hasheem Thabeet.) Throw in LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Nic Batum and Wesley Matthews and, good lord, that’s potentially a no. 7 seed! Unless …

I can’t do it! I can’t … these things go down! THESE THINGS GO DOWN!”

To Aldridge, who’s been dancing around a trade request all summer without making one. Why are People Who Know Things wondering if he’s maneuvering to get to Chicago to play with Derrick Rose? You’re not gonna believe this, but Rose’s agent also represents Aldridge … that’s right, the one, the only Arn Tellem. Keep an eye on this one.8


8.

The Bulls could slap together a good Aldridge package featuring Carlos Boozer, their unprotected 2014 no. 1 pick, then two of the following: Jimmy Butler, prized European prospect Nikola Mirotic, and/or the rights to Charlotte’s future no. 1 pick (unprotected by 2016). If I’m running Portland and I could add Butler, Mirotic, an unprotected 2014 no. 1 and Boozer (who could give them 80 percent of Aldridge’s stats) for someone who might not want to play for me? I’m doing that one. That’s 90 cents on the dollar. (Here’s where everyone in Chicago screams: “NOOOOOOOOOOO! We can’t trade Jimmy!!!!”)

“What, do you think I was gonna try to stiff you?”
“You? Never. You would never try to stiff me.”
“Do I detect some kind of sarcasm here?”
“Never.”

To the summer’s goofiest three-team trade: The perimeter-heavy Clippers cashing their Eric Bledsoe stock for two more perimeter guys (Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick); Phoenix grabbing a second point guard (and Caron Butler’s expiring contract) when they already have Goran Dragic; and Milwaukee ending up with two measly second-rounders and a trade exception for Redick (after giving up Tobias Harris for him in February — D’OH!). The Clippers won this trade but never addressed their biggest flaws: (a) They won’t be able to get stops, and (b) they’re not winning a title playing Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan at crunch time. Although they did sell high on Bledsoe, a ridiculous athlete and a lockdown defender … but one of those high-ceiling/low-basement guys who hasn’t proven he can run a team yet.9


9.

Bledsoe was overqualified to play other teams’ backup guards — there’s an enormous difference between going against D.J. Augustin or one of the Pargo brothers versus Derrick Rose, Tony Parker or Mike Conley. When Chris Paul missed a few games last season, Bledsoe struggled to run the team. He also can’t shoot — every smart team just played 6 feet off him. Some people are just better off the bench. We will see.

You know who really won that trade? Grantland! The Clippers just acquired two of basketball’s most media-friendly players! Now we have an insurance policy if Jalen Rose’s Internet stardom goes to his head and he starts ordering video editors around or demanding crazy perks from us like “I want a four-pound lobster after every podcast! AND I WANT THE LOBSTER WELL DONE!”10 Be careful, Jalen — “The J.J. and Jacoby Podcast” and “Story Time With Jared Dudley” have nice rings to them.


10.

My three favorite Jalen Rose quirks other than his ability to sleep on an airplane from the moment he takes his seat until the moment they open the doors after landing: (a) If there’s lobster on a menu, he’s getting it; (b) he always tells them to cook the lobster until it’s “well done”; (c) if it’s not well-done enough for his liking, he’ll send it back. His favorite dish in America is the lobster tempura at Prime 112 in Miami — it’s basically 4 pounds of fried lobster. If Jalen ever had an eating show, each episode would be him going to Prime 112 and ordering the lobster tempura until the network canceled it.

“Hey look, Jon, the witness-protection program isn’t so bad … “

To Bucks fans, who grabbed the “Most Depressed NBA Fan Base” championship belt from Sacramento after the Harris-Redick debacle, followed by them splurging $46.1 million on O.J. Mayo, Zaza Pachulia and Carlos Delfino, leaving Brandon Jennings in limbo and bringing Luke Ridnour aboard in their eternal quest to finish 40-42. How bad is it for Bucks fans? On Real GM’s Bucks message board right now, there’s a 300-page thread called “Official Tobias Harris Watch” that started right after the trade11 and quickly descends into the darkest circles of hell. It’s like watching the last 75 minutes of Apocalypse Now. Poor Milwaukee.


11.

I love that a poster named “Buck You” started the thread. Great user name!

Why would you do something that you know is not good for you?
“Because I don’t think about it.”
“Well, that’s living in denial.”

To Milwaukee owner Herb Kohl and New Orleans owner Tom Benson, who seemingly share the same philosophy: Look, if you haven’t noticed, I’m effing old. I don’t have time for a big rebuilding project. No thanks. I want to make the playoffs every year and that’s that!

You know what’s funny? If I were an 85-year-old billionaire who owned a mediocre basketball team, I wouldn’t want to rebuild, either. All I’d be thinking about was my next meal, my next piss, my next boner and my puncher’s chance at winning 50 games. We have a chance to get Luke Ridnour and Zaza Pachulia? GRAB THEM! GRAB THEM RIGHT NOW! Hold on, I need to piss.

I’ve got an ex-wife and I’ve got a daughter in Chicago.
“How do they put up with all your sarcasm?”
“Beautifully — I haven’t seen either one of them in nine years.”

To Derrick Rose, who hasn’t been seen playing basketball by Chicago fans in 15 solid months. The good news? He’s finally feeling 100 percent again. Raise your hand if you missed watching Derrick Rose! (Raising hand.) A healthy and happy Rose was our third-most underrated summer NBA story, narrowly trailing LeBron James bringing a 24-hour DJ for his China trip and Dwyane Wade’s estranged wife feigning homelessness to speed up their divorce proceedings (and yes, this worked).12


12.

I thought about giving “Why aren’t you popular with the Chicago Police Department?” to the Bulls for an extremely weird past 12 months, starting with them cheaping out with Omer Asik right before wildly overpaying Taj Gibson; then last fall’s announcement that Thibs had signed an extension (followed by the revelation many months later that he hadn’t signed the contract yet — even if he eventually did); then Rose’s play-or-not-play soap opera last spring (with some NBA peeps steadfastly believing that owner Jerry Reinsdorf wanted to hold him out for the insurance money on Rose’s contract); and last month, the Bulls not retaining lead assistant coach Ron Adams even though Adams was Thibodeau’s right-hand man (and insanely tight with Derrick Rose). By the way, you know it’s mid-July when you’re spending an hour Googling Ron Adams stories and making up fake Jimmer Fredette trades.

I’ve come too far. Toooooo far. I’m toooo close.

One of Jack Walsh’s finest moments goes to the Spurs, because how the hell could this go to anyone BUT the Spurs???? I’m not even a Spurs fan and I can’t stop thinking about it. One rebound away? Five-point lead with 28.2 seconds to go? Ray Allen hitting what may have been the greatest shot in NBA history? My God. No NBA team ever came closer to winning the title without actually winning the title. Instead of blowing things up, they brought back Tiago Splitter (four years, $36 million) and Manu Ginobili (two years, $14 million), then flipped Gary Neal for Marco Belinelli (always destined to be a Spur).

Translation: We came too far. Toooooooo far. We’re too close.

As for De Niro, his iconic roles will always be Raging Bull, The Godfather: Part II, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas and Heat in some order; Midnight Run slips through the cracks because it’s a comedy. Just name me another actor who could have pulled off everything that went into Jack Walsh, a beaten-down, sarcastic, cranky, charismatic, volatile, chain-smoking, has-been Chicago cop who always makes you feel like there’s a heart beating behind every F-bomb and every menacing threat. He’s a hard guy to like and you end up loving him.

It’s the funniest De Niro performance by far, and the most relatable one, too. All these years later, it’s the little moments that stand out. Like when he sees his ex-wife and daughter again, or when he explains to the Duke why he never threw out his watch, or even the ending, when he improbably lets the Duke go and you totally believe him. The timeless “De Niro vs. Pacino” debate (which I tackled in 2002)13 swung De Niro’s way because he won a split decision in their Heat showdown, and because of his range: I just don’t think Pacino could have pulled off a part like Jack Walsh. Let’s move on before I spend another 6,000 words comparing them again.


13.

I’m not sure if these last 11 years of awful De Niro movies and awful Pacino movies have changed that 2002 verdict. Although I might have to write a mailbag sequel: “Who did a better job of sullying his IMDb page these past 11 years, De Niro or Pacino?”

“What happened to the goddamn plane?”
“He doesn’t like to fly.”
“He doesn’t like to fly? What the f— does that mean? Listen to me, Jack. You’ve gotta be here in less than two and a half f—ing days! A half a million dollars of my money … WHAT THE F— IS GOING ON THERE?”
14


14.

I left out the last line of this exchange only because it didn’t work for the quote: Jack Walsh responding, “Eddie, Eddie, I swear to God, don’t start with me or so help me, I will shoot him and dump him in a f—ing swamp!,” then shaking his head no at the suddenly terrified Duke. Underrated moment.

To J.R. Smith, if only because this sounds like an exchange that could have happened about him. Poor J.R. only had to make 3s, stay out of trouble and remain sane for eight straight months on the 2012-13 Knicks and they probably would have given him $50 million this summer.

What happened? In baseball terms, he threw seven spectacular innings in a contract year, took a three-hit shutout into the eighth, then melted down like the 2003 Cubs in the Bartman game. You left that postseason thinking three things: (1) J.R. Smith just cost himself at least $30 million; (2) that dude should be paid by the year (and only because NBA teams can’t pay their players by the week); and (3) if the Knicks learned anything this spring, it’s that they needed to build a more stable team. Whoops.

“You lied to me first!”
“YOU LIED TO ME FIRST!”
“Yes! Yes. I lied to you first … but you had no knowledge I was lying about my fear of flying, at the river, when you lied to me. So as far as you knew, you lied to me first!”
“I can’t even argue with you, I don’t even know what the f— you’re talking about.”

To new teammates Metta World Peace and J.R. Smith, because these are the types of conversations they’ll probably be having in the Knicks locker room every week. Look, we’re never topping the Ron Artest–Stephen Jackson combination in the NBA Wild-Card Pantheon. They derailed a potential 2005 title team, started the biggest melee in NBA history, put Worldwide Wes on the map, drew the longest NBA suspension ever (Metta’s 86-gamer),15 inspired a 15,000-word oral history from Abrams and gave us one of the most unforgettable TV nights that ever happened.


15.

We covered this in April 5’s mailbag — 86 games might be unbreakable because a player would have to do something equally awful in the first two weeks of the season, then have his team make the playoffs and maybe even win a round.

They also spawned the NBA’s unofficial Two Knuckleheads Rule: You can win if you’re counting on one knucklehead … as long as you don’t give him someone to hang out with. Savvier contenders do everything short of framing this rule for their locker room just so nobody forgets it. The Knicks are owned by James Dolan, which means you won’t see the word “savvy” and “Knicks” in the same paragraph unless MSG opens a new bar called “Savvy.” And that’s how they ended up guaranteeing J.R. $17.9 million over three years, then replacing Jason Kidd’s veteran leadership with Metta World Peace — just as washed-up, only 10 times the crazy!

“I’m sorry my fugitive timetable can’t coincide with your social calendar.”

The bigger point: The Knicks were gift-wrapped a pretty sweet title window last spring, thanks to the Rose/Westbrook/Rondo injuries, Indiana being a year away, and Miami being worn down from that 27-game winning streak. But from the moment J.R. whistled that inexplicable elbow at Jason Terry’s head, they started slamming that window down on their own fingers until it shattered everywhere. Even before they broke the Two Knucklehead Rule, I would have wagered on the 2014 Knicks being more of a mess than a contender. Let’s just hope they don’t turn into a big heaping bowl of voodoo stew.

“There’s no air! There’s no ventilation in here. I told you I was claustrophobic, come on. Whaddya think I’m gonna do, jump off a train moving 90 miles an hour? Jack? Jack? Jack?”

Just so you don’t think I’m piling on the Knicks — I actually liked their Andrea Bargnani trade! These last two years, he was trapped in the Amtrak bathroom of NBA situations: It was the perfect storm of “high expectations” + “lavish contract” + “limited player who could thrive in the right situation but suck in the wrong one” + “front office with no game plan” + “perenially lousy team” + “frustrated fan base” + “lots of booing” + “giant bull’s-eye on the back” + “shooting slump” + “injuries” … and by the time it was over, people were congratulating new Raptors honcho Masai Ujiri for getting a protected first-rounder and two harmlessly bad contracts for the Italian Byron Mullens.

Mullens, 2012-13: 10.6 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 38.5% FG, 31.7% 3FG, 3.9 3FGA, 12.35 PER, $2.25 million.
Bargnani, 2012-13: 12.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 39.9% FG, 30.9 3FG, 3.5 3FGA, 11.2 PER, $10 million.

Screw it, I’m buying Bargnani stock! Stick him on the right team as a stretch 5, get his confidence going and he’ll be much closer to 2009 Bargnani (15.4 PPG, 40.9% 3FG) than 2013’s abomination.16 Would you ever in a million years play Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire together, or Bargnani at the 5 and Carmelo at the 4? No!!!! PLEASE NO!!!!! But you can play Tyson Chandler, Carmelo and Andrea Bargnani together. I think they’ll be weirdly effective. (Thinking.) Crap, people are gonna throw this paragraph back in my face in five months. Dammit. Let’s just move on.


16.

If you think of the trade this way, it makes more sense: They flipped Steve Novak (a stretch-the-floor shooter who can’t guard anyone and can’t do anything if you just stand next to him, which every smart team did) into Bargnani (hopefully, a stretch-the-floor shooter who can at least bang bigger bodies and give you six fouls).

“You’re a f—ing criminal and you deserve to go where you’re going and I’m gonna take you there and if I hear any more shit outta you, I’m gonna f—ing bust your head and I’m gonna put you back in that f—ing hole and I’m gonna stick your head in the f—ing toilet bowl and I’m gonna make it stay there.”

To Doc Rivers, who will definitely be yelling mean things like this at Mullens by mid-November. I know they didn’t pay much for him, but pound for pound, that was my least-favorite summer signing. The Clips desperately needed a backup big man who could rebound and protect the rim, and they desperately did NOT need another guy standing 25 feet from the hoop and jacking up 3s. So why waste a valuable free-agent slot on the one NBA big guy famous for jacking up bad 3s and doing nothing else?

The funny backstory here: Charlotte ended Boston’s post-Rondo winning streak last February because Mullens exploded for the game of his life (25 points, 18 rebounds, four 3s). Now he’s on Doc’s team! There’s no question those two events are related. I love when coaches also pick their own rosters.17 Please explain to me how the Clippers are going to win four straight playoff series with the collection of defenders they have.


17.

On a personal note, I’m excited to watch Mullens all season — from afar, it always looked like he did more things to help a team lose than any other rotation guy in the NBA, and it always infuriated me whenever he did well against the Celtics. It was like having the Red Sox shut out by a pitcher with terrible stuff. Then again, when your big guy is jacking up a 3 every six minutes and making 31.7 percent of them, and doing nothing else, aren’t you in major trouble? I might be irrationally biased against him. We will see. Wow, we just spent a lot of time on Byron Mullens.

“Promise you to let me go?”
“F— you!”
“You’re making it very difficult for me to do the right thing here!”

Could this go to anyone other than Doc and the Celtics? This sordid mess ended up working out: Brad Stevens is the right coach for this Celtics team, and the Clippers are the right fit for Doc. But if you think the Celtics were happy with how this Doc saga played out — or any insinuation that one of the league’s most lavish franchises wanted to lose a top-five coach just to save a few bucks (and not because they didn’t want to pay $7 million a year to someone who didn’t want to be there anymore) — please note that they took out a full-page Boston Globe ad earlier this month thanking Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. We’re still waiting on the full-page ad for Doc.18


18.

The day after we exchanged barbs during the NBA draft, Doc and I talked for 45 minutes on the phone and agreed to disagree on how the Boston thing ended. He truly believes the Celtics didn’t want him to come back or pay him all that money as they were rebuilding. I don’t buy it, as I told him — I thought that they didn’t want to pay him that money once they believed he didn’t want to be there. Also, I told him that I thought he didn’t want to rebuild for a third time, and that the thought of coaching a contender and starting fresh in Los Angeles — where he gets to pick his own players, no less — was overwhelmingly enticing for him. He actually agreed with that. He just doesn’t think he quit on the Celtics — he thinks the situation ran its course. So it’s a he-said, he-said thing. We’re never going to agree on what happened, but one thing is clear: In the long run, both sides are better off.

“Is this gonna upset me?”
“I think it’s safe to say that.”

For the unforgettable press conference in which a bummed-out Kris Humphries, a delighted-to-be-overpaid Keith Bogans and a possibly suicidal MarShon Brooks were introduced to the Boston media by a deflated Danny Ainge and a shell-shocked Brad Stevens two weeks after the big Brooklyn-Boston trade.

Introducing … the New Big Three!

Boston Celtics

Even if it was a morbidly depressing day for Celtics fans, that photo slayed me. And so did this one.

Boston Celtics

Here’s the text exchange that I think was happening here.

Brooks: Where are we getting drunk tonight?
Bogans: Liberty Hotel 9PM. DON’T TELL HUMPHRIES!
Brooks: Shit! He already asked what we were doing!
Bogans: What did you tell him?
Brooks: That we were going out.
Bogans: WTF?!?!?!?!?
Brooks: I’m sorry!

CLICK HERE FOR PART 2