As The Couchletes’ resident NBA guru, I’ve been tasked with providing a little content to whet your appetite before the real games begin. Before I get there though, I wanted to deliver a preview to my preview. First, I should explain two important elements that have not only shaped my overall view of sports, but more importantly for this post and on a more micro-level, Basketball.
First, I am a fan of Minnesota sports. This fact alone puts me in rarefied air. Only fans of all Cleveland sports and those who root for the Buffalo Bills can even begin to lay claim to a more miserable sports existence. Whether it’s the Vikings, all University of Minnesota athletics, losing the North Stars to Dallas (only to see them win the Stanley Cup a few years later), the early retirement and death of Kirby Puckett, or pretty much the entire existence of my beloved Timberwolves I’m accustomed to disappointment and heartache. To be sure, there are years when it seems like something different could happen. But when those rare times come along, those times when it feels like the stars could finally align, I can rest easy because fate, I know has other plans. Plans that mean something especially horrendous is in the works. When this happens a lot of fun is had trying to imagine what that horrendous thing could be. Trust me though, it’s always so much worse (Brett Favre anyone?).
Second, I have a non-sexual man crush on Ricky Rubio that at times veers dangerously close to being non non-sexual. Of course, this second fact fits perfectly like a pair of Russian nesting dolls with point number one. I am used to disappointment. As a fan of Minnesota sports, I am not allowed to have nice things.
I mention these because I thought the demise of Ricky Rubio’s ACL last year would have taken care of point number one this season. How could we be good without our dear Spanish Unicorn? But then a funny thing started to happen. The Timberwolves front office, long whipping boy of the NBA’s elite pundits, turned intelligent. They dumped below-average players like Darko! Michael Beasley, Anothony Randolph, and Anthony Tolliver. They traded for 3-point specialist Chase Budinger and do-shit specialist Donte Cunngingham to serve as front-line back ups.
Never a team to engage in free agent spending, they went outside their comfort zone and signed a possibly rejuvenated Brandon Roy out of retirement and a possibly rejuvenated Andrei Kirilenko out of Russia. Joining him from the former iron curtain would also be his CSKA Moscow/Russian National Team teammate and floppy haired muppet Alexey Shved.
I mention all this because up until a few days ago this team was a mid-seed playoff team at worst (even with Rubio out until the end of December) and a team that could actually scare title contenders like the Thunder and Lakers at best. I mention a few days ago this was possible because a few days ago Kevin Love hadn’t broken his hand doing knuckle push-ups.
Can the Timberwolves make the playoffs without the best power forward in the league for the first month? More than likely yes. Their November schedule is easy enough and the rest of the roster talented enough that they can probably put together a .500 record. If they can do that, they should be fine. But this is beside the point. Because if I’m being honest, it really doesn’t matter. Not in the NBA.
You see, because unlike the NFL or MLB where literally anything can happen once you reach the post-season (just ask St. Louis) the NBA is built solidly upon a hierarchy, a veritable glass ceiling that all but a few teams in a given season cannot hope to break.
So, unless you’re fans of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers, or Miami Heat you might as well start relaxing right now and just focus on enjoying quality basketball because your team ain’t winning shit.
More than any other league, being a fan of NBA basketball means you engage in the Sisyphean task of hope and despair every season. Why? Because maybe sometime your team will be bad enough so you can draft a Kevin Durant or, global warming will turn your city into a place full of nice weather and beautiful women. But if you don’t live in a beautiful location and you can’t draft a well-balanced superstar with zero ego than you’re pretty much out of luck. Enjoy pushing that boulder this season, who knows, maybe you’ll actually get it to the top this time… oh wait, I know… you won’t.
But you know what? It doesn’t matter. Not really. Because NBA fans have found ways to accept the fact that our favorite team won’t be spraying themselves with champagne (well, at least after winning a championship) at the end of the season. We’ve come to appreciate the little things. Because even if baseball and football are America’s games let’s face it, baseball is boring and football either won’t exist or will have morphed into a variation of two-hand touch within the next 20 years. That leaves us with Basketball, a sport full of the most physically gifted athletes partaking in a game that is so inherently beautiful and thrilling to watch it really doesn’t even matter that my team has essentially no chance of making it out of the first round.
But then again, isn’t that what we should want? Where’s the fun in some team who barely made it into the playoffs going on a run and winning it all? Sure, for a brief instant it might be thrilling to watch an underdog run off a series of wins but underdogs don’t win on their skill. They win when they make the game ugly. They win when they take a game out of its natural rhythm. They win when they get the refs involved. They win when they strip the beauty, grace, and excitement out of a beautiful, thrilling, and exciting game. So why would I want to root for that?
Basketball is not like any other sport. Basketball is all about fate. Fate put me in my place. In hindsight I’m just thankful it taught me my lesson before the season started. But if I’m being honest, I’ve still got a lot to be thankful for. I’m still going to get to see my team run Rick Adelman’s “Corner Offense” beautifully from time to time, their passes careening from one side of the floor to the other before ending in a Kevin Love 3-pointer from the top of the arc, or a Nikola Pekovic dunk. I’m still going to get to see Ricky Rubio smile and do Ricky Rubio type things. I’m also going to see Tony Parker run around like a whirling dervish, James Harden’s beard, LeBron James’ evolving post-game, and I’m going sit back and feel the terror and beauty of a Steve Nash/Dwight Howard pick-n-roll game wash over me in an awesome wave.
These are all things we’re going to see this year, these and so many more. Because though we may know how the story is going to end (and trust me, I’ll still hope against hope that I can get that boulder up the hill this time) we don’t know how it’s going to get there. But one thing I do know is that it will be thrilling and it will be beautiful.
One last thing I’m thankful for: I have NBA League Pass, which means I can see and enjoy all of the above.
Hope you’ll watch with me this year. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to tempt fate.