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.