Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mile High

I really like this Denver team and I’m reiterating my thoughts that they will take down the Lakers.

They are playing great team basketball. They’re making the extra pass and getting easy buckets. Their frontline is intimidating and can finish (although Martin needs to crush some of those layins and remove all doubt that the ball is going through the hoop). They can score in crazy bunches. I just like what I’m seeing.

I also love the way that Chauncey Billups plays. Tom Friend had a cool, lengthy feature the other day kind of explaining why Billups is who he is. I enjoyed it immensely.

There really is no reason not to like the guy, especially since he is so clearly in command of this team and can dress down even the seemingly undressdownable Kenyon Martin. For instance, at the end of the first half Billups waved away Nene as he attempted to set a screen and pointed at Martin. Martin came over, but didn’t do so with much urgency, so Billups took it to the hole, got fouled, and made the shot, he walked toward Martin pointed, and said, “I wanted YOU in the pick and roll, dog.” Martin did not argue, but instead repeated “My bad” several times. Martin was wrong. Billups was right. Martin knew it. It’s almost like he’s a dad out there. He has this way about him where he almost nonverbally says, “It’s not that I’m mad, I’m just disappointed.” Anyway, he’s such a smart offensive player and it’s really clear why his teammates love playing with him.

However, I do not like the way that he played defense on Jason Kidd. Look, we all know Kidd is past his prime, certainly defensively, but he’s still crafty and quick with the ball in his hands, as evidenced by the several occasions where he actually And1 Mixtaped Billups on defense and drove straight to the hole, except he never finished, but that’s a different matter. Another thing is that he, and several Dallas players (Howard, Terry, sometimes Dirk) were left WIDE open on threes. Denver plays very good defense in the post and on drives to the basket, but for some reason they do a really poor job closing out on three-point shooters, which is strange. It’s one of the easier things to do because while it takes effort, the effort required is minimal. They can’t continually do that against a good shooting team and expect to survive (although they just did that, didn’t they? So what am I talking about?)

I’m a converted Melo believer. I’ve wanted to like the guy for a few years now and he’s convinced me that he’s worthy. He’s such an explosive offensive force and is actually showing quite a bit of defensive prowess, as evidenced by his strong post defense against Dirk. Granted, Dirk is not a post player, but Melo did not give any ground and did not bite on Dirk’s many, many headfakes. Since he’s such a solidly built guy with quickness and speed, so it makes sense that he should be a good defender. Actually, the only thing holding him back is effort. He’ll get there though. But his real value, obviously, is his offense. He’s such a strong player going to the hole, his straight-up-and down jumper looks great and when he’s on, it’s like his shot finds the bottom of the net quicker than most. It’s kind of like when people talk about how a ball sounds different when it comes off Josh Hamilton’s bat. Melo’s swishes are just prettier than most.
A few other random thoughts:
  • I hated PJ Carlesimmo as the coach for the Sonics, but I must admit, he’s a good color analyst. The guy knows what he’s talking about and he doesn’t come across as a jerk that I’d perceived to be. He doesn’t belabor points, he doesn’t seem to have any grudges, he doesn’t over-talk, and he’s been around the league for so long he knows all of the players really well. What can I say? I like the guy.
  • Another guy that I like is Brandon Bass. He’s a tough, effort guy with some skills, a decently reliable jumper, and doesn’t seem to be a quitter. He showed a ton of heart down the stretch when the game looked like it was out of hand. Anyway, I’ll say this, even though he’s only 6’7 or 6’8 I’d much rather have him at $2-3M per year (he’s an unrestricted free agent and made under $830K this year) than Erick Dampier at $11M per year through the 2011 season, but that’s just me. But I hammered this point home earlier.
    I don’t like the Pepsi Center. It looks fine on TV and I’m sure it’s a nice place to watch a game, but man, it seats over 19K, but the acoustics make it sound like there are far less people in there. It’s like the noise just evaporates. I felt the same way about Dallas’s American Airlines Center (which seats over 20K). Maybe they need to lower the ceilings or something, but it just sounds dead in those arenas.
  • Just how disgusting is that Dominos Pasta Bread Bowl? I thought that we had turned into a very carb-conscious society, so how did this make it through testing? What’s next, a baked potato bread bowl stuffed with fettuccini alfredo and topped with croutons with a side of chips? I’m curious to see how these things sell. My guess? Very well.
  • I am thoroughly enjoying the "Old School" T-Mobile commercial with Barkley, Magic, and Dr. J. I especially enjoy the poster and video game case depicting a caricature of Barkley playing hoop in red Chuck Taylors and a hospital gown with an IV in his arm. Nice subtle move by the T-Mobile folks. The three of them look legitimately sad about wearing the motion capture outfits. Also, they don’t overact, but instead play it straight up, and it’s legitimately funny. Nice job, fellas.
  • I seriously doubt that I’ll be “Meeting the Browns.”

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Post Ty

As fans of UW Football, we were all hoping that Willingham wasn’t as much of an ass as he seemed to be. He came to UW not a as a savior really, but rather a guy that the administration thought would bring accountability, hard work, and honor back to the program. When he was hired, I didn’t know too much about him except that it looked like he was forced out of Notre Dame unfairly. But then, I don’t care for Notre Dame, and I figured that anything that they did was nefarious in a secret society kind of way.

The only opinion that I really had about Willingham was that he was boring. I recall bits and pieces of his opening press conference at Notre Dame when he was clearly kissing up to the administration by talking about ending practice at a time so that his players could attend church service at “Twelve Noon.” I remember thinking three things: (1) “who says twelve noon?” (2) “Wow, I didn’t know that Notre Dame was so religious,” and (3) “Willingham sounds really, really, really boring.”

He had a great first season with the Irish going 10-3 but got throttled 28-6 by NC State in the Gator Bowl. His next two seasons were massive disappointments at 5-7 and 6-5 which featured several blowout losses (if that wasn’t a harbinger for UW, then I don’t know what was).

He had an OK record at Notre Dame and he may have been fired a little too quickly, but looking back, is that really the case? Wouldn’t he have just dug Notre Dame into a deeper hole? We can only wish that he’d stayed there longer because while Notre Dame thinks that it is better than everyone else, they can’t hold the jocks of non-BCS schools like Boise State, Utah, BYU, and even Fresno State, but that’s another rant for another day. The point is Notre Dame fired him and he ended up at UW where he stood on a program that was mired in a tar pit and did nothing to prevent it from sinking into its murky depths, but instead stood with his arms folded, hand on his chin, wearing his sunglasses and headset.

He had many problems, but here are a few that stood out:

He was never upfront with the media.
Because of this, no one knew exactly what was going on. Not the media, not the fans. Everyone was left to try and interpret his cryptic comments in search of real meaning. In response to direct questions (e.g. “What went wrong with the running game today, why did you keep running the ball up the middle with Chris Polk when he was gaining a yard at best?”), he would “answer” with nonspecific pabulum, such as (and I’m paraphrasing here): “You want to win in the game of football, oookaaay, and when you don’t win, it’s frustrating, but we are all dedicated to winning the game of football.”

Thanks, Ty. So what does that even mean? There is probably one reason why coaches do this and it’s because they abhor the media. But there are different motivations for different coaches. Let’s take two extreme examples: Bill Belichick and Tyrone Willingham.

Belichick pulls the “I hate talking to you people and will say as little as possible” stunt all of the time, but it’s different with him because he wins. He does not want to talk to anyone about his team because it could give a competitive advantage to the opposition (I guess). So he’s curt and boring and he does this so he can get the hell away from the media as soon as possible.

Willingham pulls the same stunt, but has a very different motivation, which is: he has no idea what to say because he doesn’t know what he was doing. Both are strategic moves for the coaches. They want to hold things close to the vest. Belichick does it to protect his knowledge and to protect his team. Willingham does it to hide his lack of knowledge and to blame his team. They behave in much the same manner, but have very different motivations.

A good friend of mine has an uncle who played football professionally and subscribes to this theory about Willingham. The more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Actually, the more everything makes sense about his entire reign at UW. He wanted to portray a certain image and wanted people to think that he was: professional, stoic, measured, reserved, respected, disciplined, and intellectual. He may actually have been one or two of these things, but these character traits really were a mask. As the Fugees once said, “Yeah everybody wears a mask but how long will it last?” Willingham acted the way that he did with the media, with former players, with fans, and with boosters because under his professional veneer was a shocking abundance of ignorance. He never had any answers so the best way to deal with that is to completely make it uncomfortable for anyone to speak with him. Conversations with people were always short because people got tired of talking to him. So his plan worked. He never had to really explain himself. Now the closed practice thing makes sense, because he didn’t want anyone to know that all he did was walk around practice for a few hours looking like a general (we can only surmise) when really all he was doing was waiting for practice to end so he could go home. I’m sure it seemed like he was just giving his position coaches and coordinators the freedom to coach, but really he couldn’t have helped them in any way because, again, he did not know what he was doing. If he opened practices, then people who actually know what to look for in a coach would know that he was a fraud and he might have been called out even sooner.

We probably never heard about this because his assistant coaches would never sell him out while they worked for him because, hey, he game them their job and loyalty goes a long way. If they badmouthed Willingham, then they’d be labeled backstabbers. If that’s the case, then how do they get hired by the next guy? It’s in their best interest to keep their mouths shut.

For the players, what do they really know? If they didn’t transfer into the program, then Willingham would have been their only exposure to a college head coach on a daily basis. So through no fault of their own, they’re unaware of how a successful coach runs his program.

You have to admit, it makes sense.

He sold out his players.
Several times during Willingham’s tenure he would lead his players to the slaughter. A comment like “We didn’t execute” is code for “Hey, this isn’t my fault, my players suck and didn't do what I told them to do.” I’m a firm believer that coaches should never baby their players and should hold them accountable for things that they do wrong. But a good coach wouldn’t air out his players in public, but rather would kick their ass behind closed doors. I never heard him do anything like that, instead, he employed classic passive-aggressive behavior and essentially talked behind their backs, but in broad daylight, if that makes any sense. Perhaps he was just “sending a message” but the way he acted, frankly, was cowardly. Especially when he, as head coach, is to blame.

Also, when players were hurt or injured, he’d always play it down. Perhaps he was doing this because he didn’t want his players to use injuries as an excuse for bad play, but it still made those players look like fools if they were playing poorly. Instead of them being hobbled and unable to make a play because of a physical malady of some sort, Willingham would trot out his: “We just didn’t execute in the football game” line.

Another thing, I’m not 100% sure he knew the names of all of his players or anyone else in college football. He’d constantly refer to “our running back” or “the young man” or “number X” when referring to a specific player. I could never figure out what sort of mind game he was playing with all of us. Is it like not mentioning a competitor in a commercial and instead calling it “another leading brand?” I suppose that would make sense if he was talking about opposing players, by not wanting to give them credit or something, but he’d often do it with his own players. Was he trying to maintain some sort of weird distance with players in his program? I’m now convinced that there is a more simple explanation. He just didn’t know their names.

Anyway, now he’s gone and I couldn’t be happier, but on his way out he managed to tank swimming right along with the football team. The funds from his buyout would have more than made up for the cost to run the swim team, at least for the next year, who knows what would have happened after that. Willingham could mend a lot of fences if he donated some cash back to the school to save swimming, but he’s probably too professional, stoic, measured, reserved, respected, disciplined, and intellectual to do something like that.

I am overjoyed with the future prospects of this program under Sarkisian though. He’s everything Willingham is not. Personality is one thing and Sarkisian’s got truckloads of it, which is great, but his willingness to engage the media and fans and speak about his team shows me that he is confident and competent in addition to being fun to listen to. If he fails it won’t be because of lack of effort or knowledge, it will be because this program has fallen to such depths that it cannot be revived in five years or less. I’m attempting to temper my enthusiasm, but it’s difficult to do so when reading things about him and the recruiting efforts that he and his staff are taking. He also seems a lot more invested in the program, inventive in his approach to the game, and, to be honest, more trustworthy, than Willingham.

It would be glorious if he could lead them to a bowl game this year, but even the most ardent supporters don’t believe that will happen and are giving him time to implement his scheme, get his players in here, and change the losing attitude.

While I’ve known the schedule for quite some time, I haven’t done the game-by-game thing, so let’s do it now, just for fun. And in case you didn’t know, last year I picked this team to go 7-5. Unbelievable.

2009 Football schedule
  • Sat., Sept. 5 LSU loss (LSU’s purple and gold program is so far ahead of UW’s it’s laughable. The offense is no great shakes, but LSU’s defense will cause all kinds of problems. The speed on the field will be shockingly one-sided.)
  • Sat., Sept. 12 Idaho win (I’m happy to see them back on the schedule, welcome, Vandals.)
  • Sat., Sept. 19 USC loss (but I feel kind of good about this game, the team lost a lot on defense and has a new QB even though their skill players are still great)
  • Sat., Sept. 26 at Stanford win (I’m not confident in this pick, but Stanford has lost a lot and are engulfed in a QB controversy. They also may lose their highly productive RB, Toby Gerhart, to baseball).
  • Sat., Oct. 3 at Notre Dame loss (they are not that impressive, but they weren’t impressive last year and for all intents and purposes held UW under 100 yards of offense last year. Of course that was with Ronnie Fouch running the show…)
  • Sat., Oct. 10 Arizona win (No more Willie “Light Up UW” Tuitama. That’s a good thing.)
  • Sat., Oct. 17 at Arizona State win (They’ve lost a ton of players, including their QB, and were highly overrated last year anyway. I don’t like this team at all).
  • Sat., Oct. 24 Oregon loss (Despite losing quite a few quality starters, they are still far superior than UW at this point).
  • Sat., Nov. 7 at UCLA win (They’ve got huge QB problems, don’t have a stocked cupboard, and Neuheisel doesn’t have them going yet).
  • Sat., Nov. 14 at Oregon State loss (this is a very good team that has a good, experienced QB and explosive playmakers. This game could get out of hand.)
  • Sat., Nov. 28 Washington State win (they were dreadful last year and nothing tells me that they’ll be anything but atrocious next year. They have not solved their QB questions and are lacking across the board and lost Brandon Gibson).
  • Sat., Dec. 5 California loss (another very good team that may just throttle UW).

    Final Tally: 6- 6

Look what I just did. I just made fun of myself for predicting that UW would go 7-5 in 2008 and now I’ve made them bowl eligible in Sarkisian’s first year? What’s wrong with me? I’m way too cynical to be such an optimist. But going through this game-by-game exercise you have to admit that it’s possible, right? Ok, maybe I’m being a little too bullish on their chances against the Arizonas and Stanford…nevertheless I’ve now convinced myself that 4-8 would be a disappointment, 5-7 is the most realistic, and 6-6 is attainable.

That’s not too much to ask, right? Right!?

Please let me be right.

I love college football and I need UW to be relevant again because I can’t, in good conscience, leap into the arms of another program next year without feeling dirty. Being just a little too interested in how Georgia is going to do with the loss of Knowshon Moreno and Matthew Stafford just won’t sit well with me.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Cohen Brothers

I saw Burn After Reading this weekend and while I heard that the movie wasn’t very good, I wasn’t prepared for 96 minutes that felt like 180 minutes. This was dreck. My knee-jerk reaction was something like, “How can the Cohen brothers, the geniuses behind Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and O Brother, Where Art Thou give me something as crappy as Burn After Reading?” As an aside, you’ll notice that I did not include Raising Arizona in the mix of genius-level movies. The reason is simple. I did not like that movie. I realize that many people do and are baffled when I tell them that Raising Arizona simply doesn’t do it for me. I’m sorry. I just don’t like it.

Back to the Cohen brothers, I'm not sure why I was surprised that Burn After Reading was so bad because this isn’t the first time that they’ve lobbed a bag of vomit at me. Granted, I haven’t seen all of their movies, but I have seen several. Here’s the list and my comments next to each:
  1. Blood Simple. (1984) – didn’t see it.
  2. Crimewave (1985) – didn’t see it.
  3. Raising Arizona (1987) – didn’t like it.
  4. Miller's Crossing (1990) – interesting Irish gangster movie. I didn’t see it when it was new, but saw it probably about 10 years ago. I remember liking it, but not loving it by any stretch.
  5. Barton Fink (1991) – this was an extremely weird movie filled with caricatures and themes, I wasn’t into it.
  6. The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) – absolutely horrible. Tim Robbins was lame in this movie and I wanted to punt Jennifer Jason Lee out of a skyscraper’s window as soon as she appeared on screen. I hated this movie so very much.
  7. Fargo (1996) – One of my favorite movies of all time. I love the story. I love the characters. To this day I still quote the movie (“You’re such a super lady!”) and I will always watch it if it’s on TV. It’s a nearly perfect movie.
  8. The Big Lebowski (1998) – Quite possibly my favorite comedy of all time. Walter’s anger is fantastic. The Dude is flawless, and every character is wonderfully played (although I could have done without Julianne Moore to be honest). Gets high marks for possibly being more quotable for me than Fargo is. Also, for how mellow The Dude is, I love how he gets frustrated with Knox Harrington, the video artist. As a bonus, we named one of our intramural hoops teams in law school “Autobahn.”
  9. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) – This movie was great but does not reach Fargo or Lewbowski territory. However, it’s beautifully shot. The artistry is amazing and Clooney is very good. Also, the music is fantastic and the sirens scene is super, duper cool.
  10. The Man Who Wasn't There (2001) – I didn’t see any reason to watch this one.
  11. Intolerable Cruelty (2003) – massively disappointing. So much overacting and wildly uninteresting.
  12. The Ladykillers (2004) – sometimes just having an accent isn’t funny enough, Tom Hanks. More overacting here. Simply a stupid movie. Although I did like how the guy’s face in the painting kept changing. That was kind of funny.
  13. No Country for Old Men (2007) – They did a great job with this one. The movie stayed very true to the book and the casting was great. I enjoyed this a great deal.
  14. Burn After Reading (2008) – one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. I knew it would be terrible minutes into it because of Frances McDormand’s scene in the clinic. The jokes weren’t funny, the accents weren’t funny, she wasn’t funny (and she's typically great). It sucked. I’m a Brad Pitt fan and he brought absolutely nothing to the table. It’s just like they decided to make Brad Pitt play a kind of dorky guy and that would be enough to make it good. It wasn’t. Same with Clooney, I love the dude, but his character was unappealing, unlikeable, and far from funny. Whatever. I was pissed that I sat through this.
  15. Hail Caesar (2009) (pre-production) - I know nothing about this.
  16. A Serious Man (2009) (post-production) – or this.

So, of the 11 movies that these guys have made, I’ve loved three, liked one, was lukewarm on one, and hated six.

None of this means anything except that I (or you) should not blindly think that a Cohen brothers movie will be good.

It’s just strange that guys this talented who put out such great stuff can then release garbage like Burn After Reading and not feel bad about it. Perhaps they do and are just cashing checks, which is something that I completely understand, but that doesn’t make it right.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Artest and Rethinking the Playoffs

I love the way that Ron Artest plays defense and it’s weird that he’s such a big guy who can move as fluidly as he can. I do not like his offensive game, such as it is, because he has no regard for what a good shot is. If he did, he wouldn’t launch contested threes or force simply horrible shots with time left on the shot clock and when he’s got other players on his team capable of actually hitting shots (really, anyone else on the team). But I love this anecdote that he told the other day when asked about rough play in the Houston, L.A. series:
In brushing off the idea that the Rockets-Lakers series had
gotten uncomfortably rough, Ron Artest even related a story about a playground
game that ended when someone broke a leg off a table and stabbed a

“It went right through his heart and he died right on the
court,” Artest said. “So I’m accustomed to playing basketball really
It turns out the story is true – although it happened at a
YMCA, the stabbing was in the back and Artest was only 12 at the time, so he
probably wasn’t in the game. The man who died, Lloyd Newton, was from Artest’s
hometown of Queens.

Here’s the story of the stabbing.

When I was watching the game where he got tossed for rushing Kobe and telling him that he was hitting the wrong person, I kept thinking, “I wonder if Ron is going to come back onto the court, put a 38 to Kobe’s temple while he’s shooting a free throw, and squeeze.” Admitedly, it’s highly unlikely that he’d do that or even attempt to do that, but not completely out of the realm of possibility, afterall, some dude stabbed Monica Seles during a tennis match.

Also, given what has transpired the last few days, I clearly need to rethink my prediction on the Lakers. If they make it out of this round against Houston, and I still think that they will. How in the world are they going to tussle against Denver? That team is playing great basketball and has highly effective role players (Nene, Birdman, Blake Griffin 1.0, Dahntay Jones) to go along with Melo, Chauncey, and the extraordinarily knuckleheaded but equally extraordinarily talented J.R. Smith. They’re playing good defense and will have several days to rest after possibly sweeping Dallas, while L.A. is at 2-2 with Houston. They way that they’re playing right now makes them honest-to-goodness title contenders.

Cleveland looks like a goddamn unstoppable train right now (well, at least LeBron does, both literally and figuratively) but a tough Denver team would by no means be an easy out. If given the option, I’d bet that Cleveland would rather face L.A. than Denver because L.A. does not have anywhere near the thuggish ruggish persona that Denver is strutting right now, and it doesn’t look like an act. L.A. for as talented as they are, still lack any sort of pimp slap mentality. I love Lamar Odom, but I wouldn’t fear him. Kenyon Martin on the other hand would make me soil myself and I’d also be deathly afraid to catch anything from Birdman (e.g. avian flu or just the clap). Plus, add the unreal hostile environment that Kobe will face in Denver and it’s going to be a damn tough series for L.A. if they get there. By the way, that Kobe-the-Rapist thing could go one of two ways. One: he’ll feed off of the negative energy and shut the crowd up by scoring at will and defending like a mother bear. Two: he’ll force everything in order to shut the crowd up but completely shoot his team out of the game while getting pissed at his team at the same time. I’d bet we get to see both sides with scenario two happening first, then scenario one happening at least once.

While I’m not an L.A. fan by any stretch I’d much rather see them face Denver than Houston, so here’s hoping that happens.
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