Author Archives: markgaspar

The Walking Dead: A guide to watching the NBA’s lost causes.

By Mark Gaspar

The bottom feeders are coming for you.

The bottom feeders are coming for you.

As we cross the threshold of the NBA season’s halfway point we’re left with a lot of stories to ponder. Will the Lakers get their act together? Can anyone challenge the Heat in the east? Do the Spurs have enough left in the tank to compete for a fifth title? Could I love Ricky Rubio any more than I do now?

But there are other storylines. Deep within the dark recesses of our collective minds, in a place we don’t like to admit exists – let alone talk about – resides the walking dead; a collection of teams without hope of success. They’re just going through the motions. There will be no playoffs for them. No last second push. No absolution or chance for redemption. Only pain and suffering. Surrounding these teams is the familiar mantra “maybe next year.”

However, not all the members of the walking dead are as dead as others. Some still have some life in them. Some still offer something interesting to watch or look for. Below, I’ll break down our undead into two camps. The “Really Dead” i.e. Please watch something else, and the “Little bit of life in them” i.e. something interesting is going on.

Keep in mind the trade deadline is tomorrow so these could be meaningless by the time you get around to read this. Thanks for nothing NBA.

The Unwatchables

Charlotte Bobcats

There’s not a way to say this delicately. The Charlotte Bobcats are a bad team. Could they end up being good? At some point maybe. In the not too distant future? No. They currently have 2 ¼ serviceable players.

Player 1: I’ve only seen a few Bobcat games this year but Kemba Walker has been far and away the best thing about the team. If he can improve his defense, he should be able to comfortably reside in that top-20 PGS in the league (this is not an insult. Have you seen how many good point guards there are?)

Player 2: I really enjoy watching Bismack Biyombo. Sadly, he’s probably a minimum two years away from being a serviceable NBA player. I’d compare him to his former countrymen Serge Ibaka. Both athletic freaks and neither one of them knew what they were doing the first couple years they were in the league. Will he figure it out like Ibaka? I don’t know, but it might be worth checking in from time to time.

Player ¼: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a really good player. It’s just unfortunate he hit the rookie wall after the first month of the season. When he’s on he’s very entertaining. He defends; he passes; he can score a little bit. Has the potential to be a poor-man’s Andrei Kirilenko if he stays healthy and continues to improve.

Should you watch?: You’ve always wanted to read “Moby Dick” and by the time you finish they might be decent.

Sacramento Kings

This team has a ton of talent on it and yet I like close to nothing about them. Demarcus Cousins is a beast. If he screws his head on right he’ll be the second best Center in the league after Dwight. However, his actions have proven that that is a pretty big IF and if/when it happens it probably won’t be with the Kings/Sonics.

As for Tyreke Evans, he’s a physical freak. Unfortunately he doesn’t really know how to play basketball.

If you’re a Kings fan… well, I’m sorry. This team drafts players without knowing what they’re going to do with them. This leads to players getting frustrated as they are rarely put in a situation where they can succeed. This isn’t so much the players fault. They didn’t choose to be drafted by the Kings but it is systemic of their entire operation. And to make matters worse for their fan base (one of the best in the league by the way) they’re probably moving to Seattle.

Should you watch?: It might be time to go out and interact with your fellow humans.

Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic are in a dark place right now. Unburdened of Dwight Howard they are a team without an identity or star. Their best player is currently J.J. Redick and there’s roughly a 100% chance he will be traded by tomorrow afternoon. Their best chance is to win the lottery. Sadly for them there isn’t a franchise-changing player to be found this year. What does this all mean? It means the Magic are going to be bad for the next half-decade, minimum.

Should you watch?: I’m pretty sure ESPN 2 is showing reruns of NFL Countdown.

Phoenix Suns

The Suns are in pretty much the same boat as the Magic but with one of the worst owners in the league. They recently parted ways with Steve Nash so they’re currently operating without an identity or any quality NBA players. They do have Marcin Gortat and Jared Dudley, i.e. two very capable players who would be nice on any team competing for the playoffs. However, when you pair them with Michael Beasley, you’re not going to win a lot of games. Again, just like the Magic there aren’t any players on the team as it’s currently constructed that can give their fans much to look forward to.

Should you watch?: Isn’t House Hunters on right now?

If the Thunder or Heat aren’t playing it wouldn’t hurt you to watch them

Washington Wizards

The Washington Wizards are starting to figure things out. After a horrendous start they’ve found their footing and are starting to play if not winning basketball, at least watchable basketball.

John Wall is healthy and starting to live up to his potential. Bradley Beal has had a few moments that show what type of player he could be. Combine them with veterans like Nene and Trevor Ariza and you have a team that can compete most nights. Will they make the playoffs? No. Even with as bad as the Eastern Conference has been this year they’ll still miss out by quite a few games. But with a smart draft and a few trades/free agent signings that break their way they could be competing for the 8th seed as early as next year.

Should you watch?: If some of the teams below aren’t on I’d recommend checking out the Wiz… at least when John Wall is on the court.

Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cleveland Cavaliers are one of the most watchable teams in the league even though they have the worst record. Why? Because Kyrie Irving is the most thrilling player to watch outside of LeBron James. His speed, balance, and decision making can at times leave you breathless, or if you’re Brad Beal, on your back.

The Cavs haven’t done a great job surrounding him with talent (sound familiar Mr. James?) but they should be in line for another quality draft pick. They just need to make sure they don’t choose another Tristan Thompson or Dion Waiters.

On the bright side, at least Anderson Varejao didn’t die from his blood clot scare.

Should you watch?: If Kyrie is healthy you should definitely watch the Cavs.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Do I have an unbiased opinion about the Timberwolves? Yes, yes I do. Should you believe me when I say you should watch them? Yes, yes you should. Just maybe not right now.

Before the season started the puppies were a trendy pick to be a 5th or 6th seed in the west. Then, Kevin Love broke his hand, Chase Budinger tore his meniscus, Brandan Roy’s knee exploded… again, Josh Howard’s knee exploded, and Ricky Rubio started his come back after exploding his knee last year. With five remaining players and two healthy knees to share the Wolves have had a hard time winning games. This trend will continue until they get a few players back.

That’s the bad news. The good news?

Ricky Rubio is starting to come back into form. Over his past 10 games he’s averaging 13.1 points, 8.6 assists, and 2.4 steals a game. These are pretty good numbers. Regardless of how many injuries they’ve had, a healthy Rubio makes this team a League Pass favorite.

Other bright spots: Kevin Love will return in the next few weeks. Chase Budinger will too. Will it be too little too late? Yes. The Western Conference is so stacked this year that a team is going to need close to 50 wins just to get the 8th seed. However, NBA fans will get at least 15-17 games to watch this team as it was originally constructed. It should be fun. And it sets them up well for next year.

Should you watch?: Watch the Timberwolves. Bet on their opponent.

New Orleans Hornets

The Hornets are a lousy team. So why are they on the watchable list? Well, they have Anthony Davis, one of the best big men prospects of the last decade. When he’s healthy he’s a defensive terror and turns NOLA into the Cajun Lob City. Do they have weak links? Yes, Austin Rivers is putting up numbers that put him in the running for worst basketball player of all time. Eric Gordon can’t stay healthy, he doesn’t like the team and the fans don’t like him. However, they have a new owner, a new name as of next year, and they should be in line for another decent draft pick. If they can find a good small forward to pair with Davis and Greivis Vasquez they could have a nice little nucleus.

Should you watch?: This year? Sure, as long as you’re doing something else useful.

By Mark Gaspar
Follow Mark on Twitter at @markgaspar
You can contact Mark at

Valentine’s Day advice from Ricky Rubio

By Mark Gaspar

For men around the country, today is a day of romance, possibility, and crippling fear. We’ve spent months, weeks, days, or maybe hours planning something perfect. Something that will make that special someone in our life appreciate and love us all the more. It can be tricky, we all know that. But thankfully Mr. Rubio is here to provide us with a little pre-rising stars challenge advice (this honors my commitment to write an all-star post. In short, watch the rising stars challenge and be amazed at what Ricky Rubio can do when nobody plays defense).

His advice? It’s better to give than to receive.

Pretty simple. To illustrate his advice (and get you in the mood for tonight with some very sexy giving) I’ve included 9 minutes of Ricky Rubio passes. Enjoy.

By Mark Gaspar
Follow Mark on Twitter at @markgaspar
You can contact Mark at

So God made an Ad Man.

By Mark Gaspar

While many of you sat in a sweaty and overcrowded living room to watch the Super Bowl with your friends, I – clothed in my favorite shark skin suit – sat aloft on the 52nd floor of a Madison Avenue office building. While sipping a 12 year-old scotch, I looked down from my perch – both literally and figuratively –on all the plebian mouth breathers with disdain, and a little bit of pity.

“Yes, I pity them” I thought as I cozied up with my favorite albino cat in a cold, unfeeling mid-century modern chair. But I also love them, those out-of-shape puppets who are, this very moment covered in fried chicken grease, readily opening their feebile and facile minds to the corporate suggestions of the cabal with whom I currently sit. “My God” I whispered, “they make it all so easy. Like shooting fish in a barrel.” We all laughed our best and most full-throated laugh as we watched a wall of television screens and calmly snorted caviar off the stomachs of immaculately hairless models imported from Romania.

As the game began our notions were reinforced. Ball shots, large breasts, promises of adventure… the tried and true. There were a few hiccups. Those bastards at Audi gave us something comfortable yet subversive.

And GoDaddy actually presented something that was creative and strategic.

“Holy balls” cried one senior executive next to me “did they just do something that made sense?”

Those were but tiny bumps, for we could still forecast the USA Today top ten commercials. Surely Doritos’ “Goat” and the even more asinine “men dressing up” would be number one and two. Such stupidity. Such meaninglessness. This… THIS is what America wants… nay… NEEDS! Ah the beauty of crowdsourcing. Give these dunces enough rope and they’ll hang the whole populace.

But then something horrible happened. In the third quarter, just after we engineered the power outage (look we’re sorry, but we spent a ton of time on those CBS promos and we really thought you’d enjoy them) a television spot came on and it rocked me to my core.


I knew they couldn’t be trusted. I mean for God’s sake it made me… FEEL something. It made me THINK about something. Two of my brethren died out of shock. After all, if the mindless horde is taught to think, to feel, to laugh at more than a guy getting hit in the junk then they’ll start to rebel. They’ll start demanding more. We’ll have to work harder.

I went to steady myself with a long slug from my glass only to notice I was sweating. Sweating right through my impossibly tailored suit. Shit. Do you know how expensive it is to dry clean shark skin?

As my forehead dried I knew I had to do one of two things. I could change. I could push myself to come up with better material, respect my audience, and ignore the trapping of previous success. Or, I could ignore everything, turn on Netflix and watch “House of Cards.” And really, when I saw it like that… it all made so much sense.

Man that Kevin Spacey is a good actor.

Other winners and losers:



All of the Black Crown!

By Mark Gaspar.
Follow Mark on Twitter at @markgaspar
You can contact Mark at

Happy NBA day! Here are a few stories to keep your eye on this season.

I’d like to tell you the greatest story ever told. “Once upon a time there was a boy named LeBron…”

Last week, I wrote a preview to my NBA preview where I stated my case that ultimately the outcome to the season isn’t murky but rather crystal clear. Essentially, we’re looking at three potential teams left standing when all is said and done.

But, as I stated, there are still plenty of stories to follow throughout the upcoming season. In lieu of a team-by-team rundown, I’m going to highlight a few story-arcs that I’ll be watching and enjoying this season.

The Champions

I think we’re going to have to get used to this.

Three teams to rule them all; unfortunately that’s about it.  OKC, the Lakers, and the Heat are the class of the league and there’s roughly a 100% chance that one of these three will hoist the “Kia Presents the Larry O’Brien Trophy during the Kia Presents the 2013 NBA Post-Game Championship Presentation, sponsored by Adidas… are you in? Ceremony”.

Here’s a rundown of each of those teams in order of my predicted finish.

The Miami Heat:

The Heatles proved last season that they’re the real deal by exercising some demons and changing the way any team that has championship aspirations approaches this season. Who’s going smaller? Anyone? Oh yeah, almost everyone.

They score with abandon, they play defense with abandon, and have we discussed how LeBron James now has a pretty formidable post-game? We haven’t? Well, he has and let me tell you, it’s terrifying.

To go along with this newly discovered post-monster, they also have second and third wheels Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. During the offseason they found time to add outside shooter extraordinaire Ray Allen and former outside shooter extraordinaire Rashard Lewis.

Is their bench still a little weak? Maybe, but the fact remains that they’re the defending league champs and they also happen to reside in the Eastern Conference. This means that for most of the season their opponents will be a glorified D-League. They’re good enough, they’re smart enough, and dog gonnit their playoff competition will be terrible.

The Lakers:

The staff here at The Couchletes recently did an NBA predictions post that may or may not be posted sometime after Kevin gets back from his honeymoon so let me spoil things right now. I picked the Thunder to win the West and lose to the Heat in the finals. Of course, this was before I was woken up from a post-gangnum style slumber to find out that Sam Presti had mortgaged his teams present for its future. This brings us to the Lakers.

The Lakers, thanks to the Thunder are now the frontrunners in the Western Conference. However, there’s a big, BIG “if” and it’s that they’re the frontrunners as long as they stay healthy. Yes, they have four future Hall-of-Famers on the roster but Steve Nash is nearly 40, Kobe’s knees probably need another round of blood spinning, Pau Gasol is in the bad part of his 30s, and Dwight Howard just had back surgery. If one of those four go down come playoff time they’ll have to rely on their bench, which consists of stalwarts like Devin Ebanks. In layman’s terms, they don’t have a bench, like, at all.

The Lakers are the leagues strongest and weakest team, if that’s even possible. Yes, I’m picking them to make it to the finals but with one tweak to Howard’s back or Kobe’s knee, or if age catches up to Steve Nash or Pau and this could all come crashing down. The 2012-2013 Lakers will be operating at a very high level but they’ll be doing it all without a net.

Oklahoma City Thunder

I’ve already touched on the Thunder a bit. They decided they couldn’t turn a profit and retain James Harden so they’ve sent him to Houston. This is a huge risk for the Thunder. It’s a huge risk because they had a 4-year window where they were essentially guaranteed a trip to the finals. The Thunder ownership and front office have decided to forego that window and attempt to be the NBA’s first ever self-sustaining team.

I’m not so sure it’s going to work. Harden was an excellent ball-handler who is virtually unstoppable in the Pick-and-Roll, and one of the leagues most efficient scorers. He also served as a kind of security blanket for the team’s offense whenever Russell Westbrook decided to go off the reservation. They swapped him for future lottery picks, a rookie that someday might be a poor-man’s version of the player they already had and Kevin Martin, an excellent shooter who can’t dribble, defend, and has pretty much been a shell of his former self since the league changed how they call shooting fouls.

So, who likes the Thunder?

I still do. Not as much as I did, but I still like them. Any time you have Kevin Durant you’re going to have a punchers chance of making it. The only issue is that I don’t think they’ll have enough to make it this year. Not without Harden. But like I said in the Lakers section, if something happens to any one of the four fragile super-stars on the Lakeshow, the Thunder will reclaim the title of next in line to lose to the Heat.

Yay them.

The former champions

In a weak Eastern Conference they may have enough. Just don’t ask them to play during the early bird special.

Another fascinating story to watch this year will be how two excellent coaches try to maintain their team’s historically high quality of play for one final go at a championship.

Since I didn’t bring them up during the above section, I’m not expecting the San Antonio Spurs or the Boston Celtics to actually make it to the finals. I think they’ll come up just a little too short, but I am expecting them to play some excellent ball nonetheless.

Now, if you held a gun to my head I might say that the Celtics have a chance to slip past the Heat. It’s the nature of the game that sometimes upsets happen. They also have a style of play that lends itself to that very thing happening. They like to play defense, they like to play rough, and they like to play physical. Also, it helps that the Eastern conference is god-awful which will help cover over up the fact that they’ve been a terrible offensive team over the past couple years.

Of course, they could totally prove me wrong. Because yeah, the additions of Jason Terry and Courtney Lee will certainly speed up their pace, I just don’t think it’ll be enough. Regardless, watch this iteration of the Celtics. It might be your last chance.

The Spurs on the other hand are actually a much better team, but they play in the West so they’ll have to go through teams like the Lakers, Thunder, Nuggets, Grizzlies and more. They have a hard slog just to make it to the finals so I’m not sure these old dogs have it in them for one final run of thrilling, beautiful, and championship caliber basketball.


Minnesota’s new mascot. “Crunch” the disintegrating meniscus.

Last season’s schedule was a terror on the ligaments and cartilage of some of the leagues brightest stars. Over the span of a few months we saw Ricky Rubio, Iman Shumpert, Derrick Rose, and Jeremy Lin all get sidelined with ACL tears or meniscus issues. On top of that Blake Griffin had minor knee surgery during the offseason, Kobe Bryant’s blood-spun joints are getting ever more fragile and we’ll also be witnessing the cartilage free comeback of former all-star Brandon Roy.

A lot of futures rest on these knees (fans, teams, sponsors). It’ll be fascinating to watch how they handle their minutes throughout the 82 game grind. I know as a Timberwolves fan I’ll be holding my breath during every game.

Northwest Division

Get used to these logos. They’re really cool… and really good.

It’s made up of teams in small-markets but I contend that no division in basketball will be as entertaining, and no division will be filled with higher-quality play night after night. In fact, it has the very real potential to field four of the eight western conference playoff teams.

Starting with the Thunder who we’ve already discussed, we’re also going to see some pretty special ball from the Denver Nuggets (a sleeper championship team), Utah Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves, and even at times the Portland Trailblazers.

If you love basketball, especially beautiful basketball, watch the Northwest Division. You won’t be disappointed.

The story will go on…and on… and on… and…

Of course, there are many other stories to watch this year but these are the ones I’ll be watching and therefore these are the ones you should be watching. If you have other narratives you’re looking forward to watching this year feel free to share them. I’m always in the mood for a good story.

By Mark Gaspar
Follow Mark on Twitter at @markgaspar

A preview to my NBA preview: The fates have decided this won’t end the way I want. But you know what? I’m okay with it.

My thoughts exactly.

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.

By Mark Gaspar
Follow Mark on Twitter at @markgaspar