even though it’s the offseason, a post about basketball

19 July, 2010 - Leave a Response

And, yeah, you know and I know that the writing I do now is pretty much all about food, all over at Lancelot Sturgeon, but I’ve dipped my toe in the LeBron Saga coverage and feel the need to add a little something.

ESPN’s TrueHoop offered a definitive take on the situation, both the Jordan-centric (and, in this particular case, Jordan-voiced) argument that LeBron is admitting weakness by going to Miami, and the counterpoint that a team-centric mentality — one that would value joining with D. Wade and Mario Chalmers — has equal historical validity as a model for “best player ever”. But the Comic Sans letter-writing, jersey-burning, sports pundit-ranting vitriol that last week’s Decision inspired doesn’t really make any sense through the lens of individual/team. Something else is going on here.

And it’s not just Cleveland being upset that they got jilted. While I feel empathy for Cleveland for one more one-name blow to the fanbase’s morale, and I feel pretty neutral overall about the pecking order in the Eastern Conference, I still found his decision aggravating, even beyond being stunned by his tone-deaf tv special.

It’s losing the notion that a championship team can be built “playing by the rules”, as laid out in the current player contract structure. The idea that, whichever it is, no matter how star-crossed, your team could succeed through a string of shrewd moves and just a little bit of luck. A level playing field, basically. Under the current CBA, that basically means a bad team wins the lottery (or has a high pick), drafts a franchise-quality player, and puts the pieces together to become a contender. As we saw in seven years in Cleveland, though, even a clear franchise player and some not-awful front office moves left them a couple steps short of a title. Other teams attempting to rise with their lottery-pick all-NBA guys like the Magic and Hornets also can’t seem to hold their own in the top tier.

And if that’s not the way to a championship, what is? It comes down to variables outside a team’s control, like the Appeal of Historical Pedigree, State Income Tax Laws, One-Sided Trades, and Extraordinary Coincidences. Nothing you can bank on happening to your team. Nothing I can bank on happening to my Nuggets (and this is even after I’ve convinced myself Melo will sign that extension that’s on the table). Let’s look at how this plays out in practice:

The Lakers held onto Kobe in the summer of 2004, when he was an unrestricted free agent, a summer which happened to coincide with those allegations of sexual assault that had turned basically all non-Lakers fans against him. They then managed to Pau Gasol, the only above-average player on a 50-win team (remember that year the Grizzlies won 50? ha!) without giving up any of their top eight players, allegedly because of cost pressures in Memphis. Then we have the Celtics, who came together in their current incarnation after acquiring Ray Allen from a team that wanted to sever Seattle’s emotional connection to their team in anticipation of a move to Oklahoma (and so gave him up for Jeff Green, who I understand if you’ve never heard of, because he’s pretty average by most metrics). And once Ray was on board, former Celtics great Kevin McHale traded them Kevin Garnett, for years the best player in the NBA, for five players of whom they have retained exactly zero as of this summer. Even those Spurs teams that stand as a model of good management got their start by winning the draft lottery and getting David Robinson, but then winning it again after he missed an entire season due to injury. And the Pistons benefited in 2004  from acquiring Rasheed Wallace for a package of bench players headlined by either Lindsey Hunter or Bob Sura (from a Hawks team that had traded a 20ppg scorer for him just days earlier).

While I know that storylines are most easily written after the fact, Cleveland suffered from a lack of them (beyond the pan-sporting event curse, which, really, you can only show that same montage so many times before people starting throwing stuff at their tvs). They made a long string of weird and ultimately unsuccessful trades — second-best players getting paid too much ricocheting around the league, four-team deals to acquire players with narrow skill-sets —  they were always pedestrian to recap, and the team never really got that much more than it gave.

In my team’s case, Denver has at least had the Allen Iverson Experiment season and the Chauncey Billups’ Homecoming season, both of which were outside-the-expected enough to give us a little bit of hope that they would be the Wildly Unfair Deals that seem to be the prerequisite for a championship. What hope do the rest of us have of our team trading Kwame Brown for an All-Star? Of convincing an all-NBA player to sign on as a free agent?

Sports leagues tend to either encourage parity (the NFL, to a fault) or stratification (pro soccer in every country except the US, MLB baseball). The NBA seems to be stuck somewhere in the middle right now, and as a fan of a team whose intangibles right now include “our coach is recovering from cancer” and “our sixth man is in his seventh season but was on our Vegas Summer League roster for some reason”, it may be a timely reminder to keep expectations realistic.

you never know how these things are gonna turn out

24 January, 2010 - Leave a Response

I’ve begun participating in a group foodblog, at lancelotsturgeon.wordpress.com

You never know — maybe this is exactly what I needed to jumpstart some writing, and I’ll reestablish this space too. Or maybe that blog will just be SO AWESOME and shiny and new, and I will have so many opinions about food that I’ll want to share with everyone, that this little blog will stay in its dusty corner of the interweb-attic. Maybe I need to take a class on when to use awful metaphors. Whatever, at any rate, I’m really excited about all of my collaborators’ participation, and at least one of them knows something about developing a personal brand online, so it might get some people-we-don’t-know traffic(!)
In any event, to all 14 of you who put this on your RSS reader ages ago and forgot it was there, thanks for not bothering to delete it. I hope that you will find reading Lancelot Sturgeon reward enough, but, uh, if it isn’t, I have some extra cookies I could send you.

still talking about health reform?

21 January, 2010 - Leave a Response

Yeah, me too. I don’t know whether it’s a gift or a curse, but I still have a rough idea of what’s in the bill on the table. That’s why when I see something like this:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/17/magazine/17FOB-ethicist-t.html
My son was dropped from our family’s employee-sponsored health insurance shortly after graduating from college in May. While filling out the application for a new policy, he asked me how to answer a question about his marijuana use in the past year. I said, “Honestly.” He checked a box indicating he smoked very occasionally and was denied coverage. Now he is uninsured while countless pot-smoking liars have coverage. My husband thinks I gave our son foolish advice. Do you agree?

[reply]

UPDATE: The son appealed the decision. The company remained adamant but said he could reapply in a year. [writer] says she believes it was giving him a nod and a wink, hinting that next year her son should simply lie. The parents were able to get him back on his father’s policy for $500 a month.

Let’s count the ways in which health reform would fix this situation:

1. kids get counted as dependents and can receive their parents’ insurance until 26, instead of now, when it’s 18-or-22-if-in-school

2. insurance companies can’t flat-out deny coverage based on a pre-existing condition, assuming that drug use was considered for its health, rather than legal, implications

3. they also can’t charge the kid astronomical premiums in lieu of denying coverage for said condition. The bill sets out the maximum allowable price differential between lowest- and highest-cost plans (based on factors like age, preexisting conditions, smoking, possibly gender (since women are more costly to insure)).

4. the hotly-debated insurance exchanges may not cover most Americans, but they would cover a recent college graduate who didn’t have insurance through an employer. And, because of changes to the actuarial risk-pooling in the individual policy market, it would be closer in line with what everyone else pays.

People of America (especially Scott Brown), these are all good things. Make it happen.

this is what work does to you

28 July, 2009 - Leave a Response

You read some puff piece in the NYT about aging and health-related anxiety:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/26/fashion/26genb.html
… and all you can think about is how *this* is exactly why our health care system is broken.
The guy doesn’t discuss any out-of-pocket costs, even as he receives a huge variety of often-speculative tests and treatments that no doubt generated thousands of dollars in bills (for his insurance company). When a doctor suggests an exploratory test, but there’s no associated additional out-of-pocket cost, any rational person would say yes — it feels like getting something beneficial for free. But those costs will be paid eventually, in the form of higher premiums or sick people getting cut from the insurance rolls or the lab refusing to take any more safety net patients (because your insurance company reimburses more money for the same procedure, so they get crowded out). The system as it is currently constituted allows people with insurance to pretend like basic economics (every decision has an opportunity cost) does not apply to health care. And it’s ironic that this piece appeared at the same time as strident Paul Krugman op-eds without recognition that it is compelling evidence for cost control.

Dear WMATA,

6 July, 2009 - Leave a Response

If I wanted a commute to consist of a lot of minutes not going anywhere because of congestion, I’d buy a car.
… and gas, and insurance. Because at least then when you’re sitting in the middle of nowhere, you get a little sunshine. And you can sing to yourself without people looking at you like you’re crazy.

food update

18 June, 2009 - Leave a Response

Earlier this week, I went to a friend’s dinner party. Intent on doing something at least somewhat impressive, I offered to bring from-scratch gnocchi. How did it turn out?

Remember Mother’s Day when you were eight years old? When you wanted to make your mom brunch in bed? And you got up all early to start and banged around the kitchen and although you told her to sleep in and she did, you took so long that she woke up so you had to send your sibling in to run interference and prevent her from leaving bed so you could serve the breakfast on a tray? And how you used basically every dish in the kitchen and got mess all over all the counters and it took several hours? And then the end product was, well, a lesson in how cooking breakfast requires some skill or practice…

It was almost exactly like that. Right down to the flour dusting my tshirt and caked onto my hands.

They turned out edible, if a little bit malformed and bland. A decent start, I suppose, to acquiring a new dish, but not exactly at dinner-party-impressing level.