Archive for February, 2009

Game 61: Raptors vs. Mavericks - Pre-game

Since acquiring Shawn Marion, the Raptors have been playing some pretty good ball on the offensive end. We have seen the Raptors play a more uptempo pace and they have shown a little bit more heart, something that has been sorely lacking throughout the season. Coming off of a loss to the Suns, where they were competitive for a good part of the game before the wheels fell off, you have to wonder what things might have been like had Marion been in the mix earlier in the year. Maybe they would have still had some of the same problems, but from what I have seen so far, they look like a more competitive team.

So now this “more competitive team” has to walk into Dallas and try to come out with a win. This isn’t as daunting of a task as it has been in past years, although it isn’t going to be a cakewalk. It is going to be extremely important for the Raptors to focus on the defensive end, not only because with this new running style, they have made themselves more vulnerable, but also because they have blown two 24 point leads to the Mavs in the past. If the Raptors are able to get up against the Mavs, they might have to try to slow the game down a bit to tighten things up, providing the Mavs with less chances for their stars to shine.

It will also be important for the Raptors to make sure they take the positives out of the game against the Suns and transfer them to the game against the Mavs. The Raptors were right in that Suns game, but as Marion said, somewhere along the line, they just lot the heart to win it. They will have to look at all of the things they did well in that game, such as sharing the ball, taking good shots and pushing the ball up the court when the opportunity was there. The Mavs don’t have a guy like Shaq (nobody does) who is just going to lean on them and wear them down, so they shouldn’t be worrying about the colossal night he had, instead thinking that if he had played a normal game, more in line with what he does now, they might have been able to pull that game out. Forget the fact that Nash wasn’t in the lineup, you have to take your positives where you can get them.

I don’t make predictions very often, but I really think this is one the Raptors can take. If they are able to concentrate on playing a solid 48 minutes, let’s look for a win here.

3 in the Key

1. As I just said, a full 48 minutes is needed from everybody.

2. Keep running.

3. Focus on playing a solid defensive game. Two way game!

Game 60: Raptors vs. Suns - Post-game

Well, going into the game and seeing that Nash wasn’t going to play, I thought the Raptors might actually have a decent chance. I figured if the Suns weren’t able to run as much as they have been in the past few games, then the Raptors might be able to compete. Well, turns out the Raptors were still able to score, but they just couldn’t stop Shaq.

Chris Bosh had a really good point when he talked about the refs not calling Shaq on 3 second violations, because Shaq really was setting up camp and just pushing guys around, closer and closer to the basket. But at this point in Shaq’s career, you have to think that he is going to get a lot of leeway when it comes to things like that and the refs have had his whole career to make that call and it hasn’t happened, so don’t start thinking that it will suddenly start now.

The thing is, when Shaq has one of those kinds of games, there really isn’t a whole lot you can do to stop him. He’s a beast. He will just continually back guys down and whether or not you get calls against him, just that constant banging against a man that size is going to wear you down. It was almost comical to see Jake “All Six” Voskuhl foul out in less than 10 minutes. He stayed true to the nickname (that I have given him), using up all six in record fashion. Somewhere, Yogi is saying, “Who’s this guy in a Raptors uni doing a Yogi impersonation? There’s only one Yogi!”

I still think there were a lot of positives from this game. We saw continued production from the Killer B’s and Marion, showing that they are meshing well. It may be too little way too late and there is a good chance that by next year, 66% of that trio may not even be here, but if they are, it could be the start of something good.

So the road trip continues, in Dallas. Anybody want to go with me and call a win here?

Game 60: Raptors vs. Suns - Pre-game

I suppose some people here will make a fuss about Shawn Marion making a return to Phoenix as a Raptor, but he has already been back as a member of the Heat, so it’s really a dead issue. I guess the only thing that could really bring the moment together is that since Marion’s arrival, the Raptors have clearly been pushing the ball up the floor and only since Terry Porter’s dismissal have the Suns been doing the same.

Let’s not get all carried away with each of these teams and their running ways, because honestly, they haven’t been playing against the strongest opposition lately, so the effect of running and gunning may have been a bit…um…amplified. While I do like the look of the Raptors running the court (especially when you have a 7 footer who not only can run the court, but DOES run the court) and think that they are a little better suited to play this way, I’m not ready to say that they have found the solution to their losing ways.

But let’s focus in on Bargs for a bit. As I mentioned, it’s not often that you get a 7-footer who can effectively run the court. It just doesn’t happen that often. But not only is he able to do it, he actually does it continuously and seems to enjoy the opportunities it brings him each time down the floor. It looks like the conditioning he worked on over the summer is paying off as he doesn’t seem to be showing any ill-effects from the running (unlike Chris Bosh, although he has been out for a while).

The great thing about Andrea being able to run the floor is that is adds another element to his game. If you have a 7-footer who has long-range ability, is starting to get more effective putting the ball on the floor and can get out on a break, then you are starting to look at something special. If he is able to stay in good enough shape and is lucky enough to remain healthy, this setup could be the perfect thing for him. The Raptors just have to make sure that he gets some breaks in between because whether he likes to run or not, that’s still a big frame to get up and down the court.

So this is where the test starts for the Raptors. Heading out west to see what they are made of. Get ready for what should be an entertaining game.

3 in the Key

1. While the focus on both sides will be to run, the Raptors are going to have to focus on running back down the floor on D or else Nash will expose them.

2. The Raptors will need the Killer B’s (so overused, but if you grew up in the 80s, it brings back memories) to be effective on both ends of the court.

3. Set plays. With all of the running that will be going on, somtimes it just comes down to being able to draw up a play off an inbounds pass that seals the game.

The Fun is Back - so far

This season has been hard, and it has a chance to become unbearably so, if they finally get the kind of player they’ve needed for the last two years, but only for a few months to close out the season before he hauls his ass off somewhere else. I have to admit I have been pretty up and down regarding Shawn Marion throughout his career. He’s always been fun to watch. But how much of that was him and how much the rest of the Suns? And why did he seem to come up with so many reasons to leave what looked like a great situation for him? Was he more trouble than all the good stuff he brought to the table was worth? I couldn’t really answer any questions about him. But now, with only a brief glimpse with this Raptor team, I feel like I have a bit more of an understanding of the guy.

First of all, the guy has never really been able to do everything he can do on the court, outside of the pre-Nash years that he likes to refer to a bit too often. In this brief glimpse so far, we’ve seen a guy that can do more than rebound and run. He shows a natural ability to facilitate for other guys, in much the same way he has an uncanny, instinctive nose for rebounds and loose balls. In Phoenix he was confined to the corners in the half-court, and was able to come in and follow up on the missed shots of other players more than creating those shots to start with. Nash was the one afforded all the space and opportunities to facilitate. He was a huge part of the running game, yes, but he could have brought more to that team than he was allowed to. Sacrifice is a big part of winning, but there really wasn’t much sacrificed by anyone else, so I could see where he might want to explore other avenues.

Miami was simply not a good avenue for him to explore. There he was confined again, this time entirely in the half-court sets, and with all the space on the floor afforded to Mr. Wade. His Yin from the Suns never met up with the Yang on the Heat. It’s like they were both torn from the circle they were meant to share, and ended up as two separate teardrops. Make that beads of sweat, and not just because of the references to the sun and the heat - the guy has always given a lot of energy. And maybe more than anything else, that energy has been too much to really prove the perfect fit on any team thus far.

So now he can cool off up north, and bring every last ounce of that energy. The mantra repeated about the Raptors for so long now has been that they lack toughness, grit, determination, effort and hustle. I honestly think that all that stuff is at least in part due to the lack of an energy guy. Look at the difference in this team when Joey has got his motor going and keeps it going. Look at the difference when Jose picks up the pace and keeps things going, rather than pausing as he takes possession of the ball, and pulling back on break opportunities. This team just fails to dictate any part of too many games, and then caves in too quickly when it becomes all to apparent that they are being dictated to and not the other way around. Energy is what can change that equation immediately.

Marion’s energy can carry this team a little when it’s just not there with other guys. I loved watching him from way up in my cheap seats. I could see how he uses the whole court and is always a step ahead of so many other guys, both mentally and physically. He knew just when to leak out. He knew just how to lay out Kevin Ollie on a sly pick as he was pressuring Jose on the way up the court. He knew where the ball should be, and was able to get it there, most of the time, if the ball was in his hands. The game looked very simple when he was out there, and it was that way in both running situations and half-court situations.

Remember all of JO’s talk about not worrying about any numbers? About how he was going to bring a certain amount of leadership to this team without needing to make it his team? About doing what is necessary for the team to win? Well so far Marion’s play rings much more true to those sorts of sentiments. And it all centers around using all the energy he has, and confining none of it.

So the fit looks golden early on. And maybe that carries on to the end of the season to the extent that the failed JO experiment can be put out of our minds. Can the fit be made into a lock from there? I hope so. I can handle him being a little more than just a bargain. He deserves to be paid fairly. And at the same time, the market for players might force him and his agent to not think as big as they might have before. And maybe he does actually realize that his Yin and Yang can be one functional whole right here for a long time, and that he can complete a team as well as himself. OK - I won’t count on that last bit, but the little kid in me will look for that somewhere in his tigger shot and light feet on defensive covers. I think it’s entirely possible that the guy is about playing basketball, and bringing everything to the game that he can, as much as about recognition and money. But then again I think it’s entirely possible that he’s just here for a stopover for whatever reason. But to see something work so well, only to see it not last, would be the biggest heartbreak of a year full of them.

Game 59: Raptors vs. Timberwolves - Post-game

It looked dicey for a while, but the Raptors managed to steady the ship and get things rolling. Once again, we saw a Raptors team that all of a sudden likes to run, getting out on the break and actually…could it be…hustling?

If you want to take a look at a guy who was hustling all night long, step back and applaud Mr. Bargnani. I’ve mentioned before that for a big man, he is surprisingly quick to get up and down the court and when he was running the floor today, he was able to fill the lane and score on uncontested dunks and layups simply because nobody covering him could keep up with him. Most of the time, when you have a team that is looking to run, whoever is playing the 5 is usually the trailer. For example, look at Shaq in Phoenix. When they run, you usually see Shaq bringing up the rear. With the Raptors, half of the time, Bargs is one of the first guys down the court with his hand in the air asking for the ball.

If the Raptors are able to make use of Bargnani’s willingness and ability to run the floor and are able to use Marion’s ability to be another option to push the ball up the floor, things are only going to open up for Bosh. By having Marion able to push the ball, it will also put less stress on Jose’s leg, as he won’t have to be full tilt every time down the court.

Jack Armstrong made a bold and very accurate comment tonight. On one Raptor possession in the third quarter, the ball came out to Marion on a break at the top of the arc. Marion took a look at the basket, but then passed it up, leading the the ball going around the horn and ending with an AP 3. Armstrong talked about how it was a smart deceision by Marion, passing the ball up to the better shooter and that Jamario Moon would have taken that shot. He was dead right. Those are the kinds of small things that translate into wins. By not taking that shot, Marion ended up helping the Raptors gain 3 points. If Moon had been around and taken that shot, it would have almost been a guaranteed miss and if you parallel the plays, that’s a 6 point swing. It may not have seemed like much, but making those kinds of decisions is going to not only have a positive effect on that play, but it will carry over to the team’s overall understanding of the game. JT can only talk about it so much, the rest comes from the players.

But let’s not get too carried away here. This is a win over the Wolves and it should be taken for what it’s worth. While the Raptors can’t be picky about who they are beating right now, it would be dangerous to get a false sense of confidence. Let’s see how things shake out against the Suns and then take it from there. The “Test out West” couldn’t have come at a better time for the Raptors. A little bit of confidence gained, but still a whole lot to prove.

Game 59: Raptors vs. Timberwolves - Pre-game

So coming off what I would say was an impressive win over the Knicks (if it is possible to have an “impressive” win over the Knicks…wait, this is the Raptors…okay, it was impressive), the Raptors now walk into a game against the Wolves, which one would assume would be something appetizing for a team trying to find its way.

In case you haven’t been following, the Raptors own the Timberwolves right now. The Raps go into this game looking for their 10th straight win over Minnesota, a team that has lost 7 of their last 8. Things pretty much couldn’t set up a lot better for the Raptors, especially since they haven’t had much of a problem scoring against the Wolves and are hoping to have their uptempo style from the New York game (er…the second one) carry over.

But as we have seen many times this season, the Raptors aren’t exactly the most mentally tough team. Hopefully, the addition of Marion has changed that, as when he spoke after the loss to the Knicks, the Raptors responded the next time out with a much better effort and naturally, a better result. It will be important for the Raptors not to think that they have everything clicking and that they are going to sail past the Wolves, because as soon as you start to look past somebody, they jump up and bite you in the rump. Remember OKC anybody?

With four Raptors posting double-doubles in their win over the Knicks, one thing that was evident was good ball movement, which we saw from the Raptors pulling down boards and immediately pushing the ball up the court. JT noted that the Raptors don’t necessarily have to grab a board and then wait for Jose to push it up the court, that other players (especially Marion) are encouraged to get the ball up the court as quickly as possible to capitalize on numbers or to simply catch the opposition flat-footed. Hopefully we can see some of that same kind of energy this game, but as long as it doesn’t come at the price of guys not getting back on D>

3 in the Key

1. Don’t overlook the Wolves. If the Wolves are able to keep it close early, they might start to get some confidence and things might get a little sticky for the Raptors.

2. Run. If the Raptors are going to show some energy on the floor and play an uptempo pace, they are going to have to fully commit to it.

3. Put it away early. The Raptors need to get ahead early and close this out. The more confidence they can gain from securing wins that they are supposed to win, the better.

Game 58: Raptors vs. Knicks - Post-game

Here’s something to think about. After Marion comes in and witnesses a good old-fashioned butt whupping of the Raptors, he calls them out about it. Right away, no hesitation. A day later, a completely different looking team comes out and beats the Knicks, controlling most of the game and playing with what actually looked like some energy and desire, with the Matrix leading by example. Now, when we have seen the Raptors take a few ugly losses on the chin this season and Chris Bosh has spoken up (albeit, sometimes a little late), the Raptors haven’t had the same sort of bounce back. It could all be coincidental, seeing that the Raptors were facing the Knicks twice in a row and stood a decent chance of winning regardless of the first game and it could just be that they were embarrassed and didn’t need anybody to call them out, but could it also be that the Raptor players respond a little better to a guy like Marion who is going to stand up and take charge when the team is looking for a leader? Is this the kind of guy Bosh needs around to take some of the weight off of him? It certainly looked that way today.

Shawn Marion has been my favourite player for years, so maybe I’m a little biased with all of this talk, but games like today are what make me like him as a player. We saw him miss his fair share of shots, but we also saw him get his own rebounds, we saw him run the length of the court on offense and on D and he recognized when his teammates were in good scoring position. He plays a complete game and leads by example. I can overlook the ugly shot. :)
Another big deal for the Raptors is that when Bargs comes to play and comes with a little bit of fire in him, he really is a tough matchup. I saw him hustling back on D today in a way that I haven’t seen him do before and surprisingly, he’s pretty quick for a big. The thing about getting back on D is that not only does it give your team a better chance to withstand the push from the opposition, but it keeps you in the game. Getting back on D doesn’t allow you the time to think about something you may have messed up on the offensive end or revel in your own good play. Getting back on D shows that you are smart enough to understand that what you just did on the offensive end doesn’t mean a thing unless you get back on D, because chances are, if you don’t get back, things are either going to cancel out or just get compounded.

There have been a variety of things that we have seen improve this year from Bargs, with his defense much better, along with him putting the ball on the floor. But while his attack has been better this season, early in the year, we saw him make the decision to drive and just put his head down, often leading to charges or walks. When we saw him put the ball on the floor today, we saw him doing it with his head up, reacting to the D in front of him, making adjustments as necessary. When you have a guy Bargs’ size doing that, you have to respect his dribble, which opens up opportunities for his natural shooting ability.

Since I am in a decent mood today, I also want to comment on Roko Ukic. The kid is showing steady development in limited minutes. What I like about him is that he’s a nice change of pace when Jose isn’t in the lineup, sort of like what the Raptors used to enjoy when TJ was in town. I’m not saying that he has the same sort of attacking ability that TJ does, but he has that same sort of mentality, where he thinks that he can beat anybody off the dribble. The good thing is that we aren’t seeing him force the ball inside, which we often saw from TJ. Roko knows what he is in there to do and is learning how to maximize his abilities. He still needs a lot of work on his jumper, but there is plenty of time for that.

If the Raptors could just put a few more complete games like this together, they wouldn’t have to rely on Bosh so much. Nobody is thinking that they are going to have four guys post double-doubles every night, but this is a team game and when you have that many players contributing in a positive manner, it just works out that you are tough to defend. People have complained a lot about the Raptors roster and true, the bench is a little short, but when I look at things, I don’t think they are that far away from being a quality team. For me, if Marion stays around, I think somebody new at the 2 could be the thing that gets them back in the right direction. But for now, let’s just see how the rest of the season goes.

Game 58: Raptors vs. Knicks - Pre-game

There are games where you just skip the videotape, there are games where you burn the videotape and then there are games like the one the Raptors “played” Friday night. That certainly has to go down as one of the most disappointing efforts I have ever witnessed as a Raptors fan. The great thing for the Raptors is that they get another crack at the Knicks on Sunday, while the wounds are still fresh.

Looking back, maybe those are more than wounds. They are more like severe injuries, but you get the point: the Raptors got taken to the woodshed Friday night by a team that shouldn’t be taking them to the woodshed. Not to say that the Knicks are a bad team, because they aren’t (hell, they’re better than the Raptors), but they aren’t a good enough team to do what they did to the Raptors the other night. You have to put that one solely on the boys in red.

So where to from here? If we go back to my post-game, where I made the sleepwalking reference, if we have just awoken in the kitchen and found ourselves lying in the fetal position with a half-empty box of Special K beside us and no idea how we got there…then what the hell do we do next?

For the Raptors, redemption starts now. Forget about making the playoffs right now. Just go back to the old cliche about taking one game at a time and then break that cliche down with another cliche, breaking things into smaller pieces. The Raptors can’t even take it one game at a time right now. They have to break each game down into quarters and just focus on one quarter at a time. The Raptors have to go right back to the basics and just work on coming out in the first quarter on a mission: to win the first quarter. Winning that first quarter will determine the angle on their second quarter mission and so on.

It sounds so simple, but the Raptors really do need to break the game down to its raw elements and start envisioning what they are going to do in each quarter. They have to start believing that they are going to win games, not just hoping they are going to win them. An RF member recently posted a thread on our message board asking who would you consider the Raptors rival. I replied that it would probably be the Raptors. I didn’t do it for a laugh, I was serious. More often than not, when the Raptors lose, they do it by repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot. You could almost say that the only reliable shot the Raptors have is the one they take aimed at their own foot.

So outside of the mental aspect of the game, what else are the Raptors going to have to do to beat the Knicks? Well…

3 in the Key

1. If you want to run with the Knicks, you have to realize that you run on offense AND defence. The court isn’t slanted, get your ass back on D.

2. Box out. There were too many easy rebounds for the Knicks on Friday and even worse than that, those rebounds were close enough that they provided opportunities to go right back up for 2. That can’t happen again.

3. Come out with some energy. You can’t get your butt whupped like that and come out like it didn’t mean anything. Play with some pride.

Game 57: Raptors vs. Knicks - Post-game

I used to have a problem with sleepwalking. I’m serious. It was pretty bad. I would wake up in different parts of the house not knowing how I got there, with all kinds of strange things lying around me and people would often tell me about conversations they had with me while I was in some sort of “out of being” state. It would always freak me out when I would wake up or when somebody would tell me about it, because I had no idea how I had arrived somewhere and I always felt like I had people worrying about me.

Well, now it only happens once in a while, so I wouldn’t call it a problem anymore, but when I watch games like tonight’s against the Knicks, I equate it with sleepwalking. From the opening tip, the Raptors sleepwalked through the whole game, just moving around on the floor with no real purpose and seemingly ignoring those around them. The number of times we saw people go by Calderon was almost embarrassing. If his leg is that bad that he has no lateral movement whatsoever, then just shut him down. Even Steve Nash can play better D than that.

But there’s plenty of blame to go around. When you give up 42 points in the first quarter, there have to be more than a few mistakes. For instance, with D’Antoni now running things in New York (pun completely intended), you would think that the Raptors would make transition D a high priority, knowing that off any misses, they were going to have to get back quickly as the Knicks would have somebody heading upcourt right away. Well, it certainly looked like the Raptors were just walking down the court, while the Knicks were running. I’m sorry, I love David Lee’s game, but there’s no way he should be outrunning guys down the court. I mean, REALLY?

Shawn Marion must have taken a look at tonight’s game and said, “What the hell is this? I love Bryan and all, but it would take a king’s ransom to get me to resign here.” You have to appreciate the double-double effort that we saw from Marion tonight, bringing essentially what you would expect from him. Even though the Raptors were getting outhustled all over the court, Marion was one of the few who were playing like the game actually mattered. I don’t care if he is in a contract year or not, that’s just the kind of game he plays. He’s no saviour, so don’t even think I’m going there with this, but when things are so bad, it’s nice to see somebody try to step up.

Chris Bosh…wow. That mystery knee ailment must be worse than we thought, because dude, you just didn’t look game ready tonight. Sure, you managed to pull down 9 boards, but I was watching, a lot of those were gimmies. You even got swatted by Nate. If your knee is that bad, then maybe you should join Jose and just shut things down. We are going to need you as healthy as possible when you are eventually traded.

Well, honestly, there’s not a whole lot more I can say about this game. Put this one up there with the Denver game that ended up getting Smitch fired as far as stinkers go. The one thing the Raptors can be happy about? At least they didn’t sleepwalk this game at home, because if they did, the Raptor fans would have given them a rude awakening…and then possibly buried them six feet under.

Once Upon a NOW

This season takes me back to my hellish adolescence. My mother was enrolled in one of those book clubs for a couple of years, and one of the hardcovers that came by mail was Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann.  There were some juicy bits in there for a fourteen-year-old to flip through while home alone. This was before the internet of course. I’m sure today a kid could listen to the audio version of the Penthouse Forum on iTunes while hacking their video game for scenes with whores, and downloading the life’s work of Seymour Butts via torrent, all while texting comments on the Rihanna twitter. But back in my day there was little more than sifting through pages of trashy pop novels looking for the odd mention of tits, and I’m a better man for it. I developed a system once I discovered the good parts came along about every 40 pages or so.  That was a great way to read a bad novel. Within forty minutes I could open my eyes to the slutty ways of rich socialite hotties, feel like I had become a man, and place the thick tome back in its place on the shelf. Of course it was ultimately unsatisfying, but at least I got enough of the odd adrenaline rush to allow me to look forward to the kinds of things that might happen years down the line. If only there was some kind of feature that allowed me to skip every forty or so pages in the story of the Raptors 08-09. There’s just not much more than a few sexy bits here and there to keep me interested in what might happen in seasons to come.

Can Bryan Colangelo deliver a real page turner from here on in? I don’t know. So far he seems to be pitching a Charlie Kaufman script that looks forwards, backwards, inward and outward while struggling with the very concept of how it will tie up all the loose ends. Being Roko Ukic? Sure. Good. Just stop trying to sell me on the idea of gunning for the playoffs with a bunch of players with bad legs playing a running game. Sure one set of knee braces have been shipped out, and maybe Mr. Marion can provide enough energy to have me wanting to skip ahead only twenty or so pages. My biggest hope is that the guy in charge fully comprehends the pulpy trashiness of what he has created, and is smart enough to turn all the Kaufman-esque doubts into something that can make a verifiable, soul-defining statement on the essence of basketball. No more talk about 2010, and Carlos Delfino, and the Division title of two seasons past. Just give me something so that watching a game feels like it makes sense, and doesn’t take me back to an unfulfilled adolescence.

Maybe that means that all the guys that don’t have the legs to play a half-court game, let alone a running game have to go. That’s an obvious place to start. Then find a coach that can actually decide on when to run and when to execute the half-court game with some measure of success. It’s all starting to sound fantastic now isn’t it? Except that it’s actually probably more fantastical. It’s the basketball fan equivalent of dry-humping the sofa cushions. Trade Bosh. Trade Jose. Get Charlie V back as a free agent, give him vitamin B injections and get him to play the point. Fire Triano. Hire Howie Mandel and let the show begin. Or stick with what we’ve pretty much got, because it’s what we’re stuck with. That’s what I’m feeling resigned to accepting more and more, and it is maybe the best bet. I made it past the age of fourteen and fifteen that way. Maybe the players on this team, and the coach, can all find their legs together in another season, and maybe it’s better to wait and see that happen here rather than scattered all over the league while we search out the juicy bits of another fragmented season. Bring back the whole core (and even Triano if he shows he can steer this wreck out of the ditch in the next two dozen games), and instead of worrying about getting them committed to this system or that, with this injection of new talent or the newest version of Delfino, get them all committed to getting their legs ready for 82 games and a couple of rounds of the playoffs. And I mean complete games and not 12 minutes here and there. Stop offering strategies that are nothing but excuses and ensure that they all trust each other and make each other better by working at doing so.

Work and work and work until Kris Humphries loves getting loose balls more than booty calls. Forget about whether Jose is an All-Star, or Bosh a superstar, or Bargnani a 3,4 or 5. Just play as a team for the rest of this season. Get in shape for next season and forget about everything else, because that’s what a top-notch franchise does right? Maybe it won’t be enough to just act like the Spurs, but it’s a start. Look at what acting like the Pistons did for the Nuggets. Now all the bums they had to tolerate for so many years look like actual gold. Was it Chauncey? No it was his conveying of the message that there were no more excuses and easy ways out, and that winning is all that matters. The Nuggets were obviously receptive to that message, and this team ought to be now as well. Some guys might be looking to go elsewhere to discover such ideas can ring true, but those guys need to know that those elsewhere teams are not going to be interested in guys that don’t make that message all that matters wherever the ball gets tipped-off. Bryan Colangelo needs to stop coming up with a new way to tell an increasingly confusing story, and just offer one sentence: Nothing has been earned by anyone here. The rest just might write itself.

So Bosh and Calderon should put their medals away now, and embrace Marion, Bargnani and Parker. Those guys should do what they need to make every other player here into something that shines, and make this season’s pulp fiction into a work of non-fiction that we won’t want to put down for a long time. The NBA requires more than putting together a dream team for a few weeks in China, but if they can start over without thinking that something has already been accomplished, while remembering what made those dream teams for real, and work towards that one game at a time like they did here two seasons ago, then maybe this franchise can amount to something more than a regular stopover for any player with tired legs.

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