Friday, February 1, 2008

My culture glides and attacks just like a vulture

PAU. If two months without Drew and Trevor were looking like forty years in the Sinai, this is waking up to find that God’s dropped wafers at your feet. Two weeks ago, Pau put up 21-18-8 with four blocks against the Lakers, held Bynum in check, and watched Kwame sink a game-winning free throw. Now he’s packing his bags for LA and thinking, “I wonder what kind of housewarming pie Kob’s gonna bake me ...” (Or, more accurately, “Bynum y yo: Altos. Fuertes. Campeones.”) Even Mark Kelman is nodding happily—Pau is now a fee simple, and there is NO possibility of reverter.

More thoughts:


Look, Gasol may not be Ajax, but “softest big man in the league?” Somewhere, Dirk, Eddy Curry, and Brian Cook are all tapping their feet indignantly. Nobody is going to mistake Gasol for Ben Wallace, but he’s shown steady improvement on the defensive end since he came into the league. Presumably the reduced pressure to score and drop in the amount of time he spends wildly chasing errant Mike Conley 18-footers will help him focus on hunting down boards and staying tough on defense.

People forget just how many defensive assets the Lakers had this year. Bynum finally realized that he could wave that 90-inch wingspan around and scatter foes like the Hydra (subluxation of the kneecap isn’t as glamorous as being chopped to bits by Hercules ... but at least Bynum will get better). Ariza brought such a substantial defensive toolset that he could plausibly guard both Iverson and Melo. Kobe has stepped up his defense after spending the summer basking in sportswriter praise for playing defensive stopper for Team USA. Turiaf is undersized, but turning into a huge asset on defense, even against legitimate centers, though the wild tomahawk swings he takes at everything make him a foul magnet, albeit a stylish one. (I always imagine Kobe going over and pleading with him: “Ronny, just challenge the shot, you don’t always have to go for the block. We need you on the floor.” Ronny: “Fuck that! Without style, man is nothing. –Nietzsche (paraphrase).”) And I’ll cover Sasha later.

The Lakers don’t need Gasol to do anything except help out when quick guards beat Fish or Farmar off the dribble. And the length we have now is absurd: if I went to class one day and Bynum, Odom, and Gasol had sawed off their limbs and left them in a pile on one Aeron, it would take me a second before I realized it wasn’t a complete person. They’re that long. All men quake in the shadow of giants.

Also, a final thought: Spain has never been about defense, and you know what? It’s worked out ok. The pre-Spaniards folded like a cheap deck of cards against the Berber Muslims that swept the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century, but that didn’t stop them from spending several centuries fighting a series of bloody Reconquest wars. The Inquisition wasn’t about defending the One True Church from corrupting external influence ... it was about ROOTING OUT THAT INFLUENCE AND FORCIBLY CONVERTING IT! Spain in the imperial age meant the reckless, relentless offensive conquest of vast swaths of the new world, the rape and pillage of its people and resources, all driven by the galleon, the age’s most dramatic manifestation of offensive might. So when Pau gives up an easy two on defense and then drops in a sweet jump-hook on the other end, he’s not screwing up—he’s reenacting the history of his people. Hegel tells us that a first glance at History convinces us that the actions of men proceed from their needs, their passions, their characters and talents—but in Pau’s case, can we not say that his needs, passions, character, and talents proceed from History?

The Triangle:

Yeah, Pau doesn’t know the triangle. But he has a half-season to learn it before the playoffs, and with the Lakers as thin as they are, he’ll have plenty of practice. He certainly seems like an ideal triangle big man, though, with excellent court-vision and passing, a diverse set of low- and high-post moves, and quick decisionmaking. Can you honestly say that an untutored Pau is going to be worse off than Kwame after years of practice in Phil’s system? At least Pau can hang onto the damn ball.


Farmar is the point of the future for the Lakers, and if you could only keep one, Javaris was obviously the right one to give up. Critt has been great in spurts this year, and if he can rein in his more irresponsible instincts without neutering his talent, the Lakers will eventually regret giving him up. The silver lining is that, with their season shot even before the trade, nothing is stopping Iavaroni from saying “Fuck it, I’m one-upping Nellie,” and trotting out a lineup of Warrick, Conley, Lowry, Juan Carlos, and Crittenton, which would make Bill Walton’s head explode. Of course, this would preclude ...

Darko and Kwame, Together at Last

One was born in South Carolina, the other in Novi Sad, but if kindred spirits exist in the NBA, Darko and Kwame have to be it. Darko will give Kwame the outlet for his frustration he’s been looking for since the Jordan days: namely, the Serbian language, with its rich lexicon of profanity and extended system of accentuation. Kwame will help Darko get a better perspective on regional variations in American barbecue, helping Darko more fairly evaluate Memphis’s mild, sweet sauces against the vinegar and hickory flavors that predominate in South Carolina. Will this translate to success on the court? I’d like to think so.


J.A. Adande went on record today in his chat that the Lakers “have” to move Odom now that they’ve pulled the trigger on Gasol. His somewhat counterintuitive solution was Anderson Varejao, who I don’t think gives the Lakers much that they don’t already have in Turiaf. J.A.’s argument was that with the offense running through the new Big 3, Lamar will “float,” lost without the rock in his hands. Isn’t it equally plausible that without any pressure to make his own offense, Lamar will be free to slink back to his natural small forward slot, create nightmarish mismatches for most of the 3’s in the league, snag the garbage boards he’s so good at getting, and occasionally taking it to the rack. With as much firepower as the Lakers will have, the frequent nights when Lamar doesn’t get it going offensively won’t hurt nearly as much, and what he does bring to the table almost every game—solid rebounding, meddlesome defense, and that weird star on the back of his head—will matter that much more.


A few days ago, Justin wrote that he won’t be disappointed when Sasha leaves. Well ... SOME OF US WILL BE. His rise from the depths of the Laker bench—where he so inept that he couldn’t even beat out Smush Parker for playing time at the point—to the Sasha we’re seeing today—a valuable contributor with a lightning-quick stroke who can give you quick points off the bench and actually play a bit of defense against quick guards—has been dramatic and inspirational. To make the analogue of my Gasol argument: how could anyone from a country this beautiful fail to play beautifully?

What I like best about Sasha is that his shots feel like gifts. At Staples, when he gets a look at an open three the entire arena seizes up, caught somewhere between the expectation of convention failure and, as Obama might put it, the audacity of hope. He’s a bit player in the Lakers narrative, but lately, with some frequency, he’s been defying his own role. I expect Kobe to be transcendent, and he regularly delivers. And make no mistake: it’s watching players like Kobe that makes the time I invest in the game worth it. But Sasha’s successes seem no less pedestrian. Some people call it “managing your expectations”; I call it “letting the mundane seep into the ecstatic.”

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