Sunday , Dec , 30 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

CJH: Staring into the Void

CJH: Staring into the Void

It’s frequently been written (whenever I see a sentence that starts that way I immediately ask “By whom?” In this case the answer is “pretentious people” or “philosophy undergraduates”) that when you stare into the void the void stares back into you. While some teams like the Celtics are currently riding high and others are simply jockeying for positioning in the standings, several teams that had high expectations before the season began have begun looking into the void only to find that they aren’t what they thought they were. For these teams the results of staring into the void of the NBA lottery and relative irrelevance is sparking a variety of maneuvers, but not all of them actually seem to be intended to make the team better. Instead, many of these moves can be seen as trying to blame problems on one person involved with the organization rather than recognize that the team has serious flaws that need to be addressed.


The Bulls famously fired Scott Skiles this week, essentially blaming him for the Bulls slow start to the season that many have framed as a disaster for a franchise that should be among the East’s best. The important thing in thinking about Skiles’ firing, however, is that it was entirely the result of expectations about the team’s performance by the public at large that may not have been realistic. Going into this season, the NBA “experts,” including Captain Jack’s Headband, nearly universally picked the Bulls to be one of the best teams in their conference and contend for a spot in the Finals in June. This was largely because the team looked young and talented and had a strong finish to last season. A close look at the roster, however, should have provided some indication that this might never have been a 50-win team in the first place.


While much has been made of Chicago’s lack of a low-post scorer the reality is that the guard rotation of Kirk Hinrich/Luol Deng/Ben Gordon presents a classic situation where a team has three B-list players with no All-Star credentials (with Deng threatening to become an A-lister) and no true star. As a result that’s not a team that frankly should have put the fear of God into anyone with three B-list guards and their bizarre menagerie of offensively useless forwards and centers. For a real-life equivalent, the Bulls are like that rundown strip club on the outskirts of town with weird lighting schemes and a three-drink minimum that features a lot of women with bad implants or in their early thirties. There’s nothing wrong with the place and it will certainly get its share of customers, but it will never be in contention for the big-spenders who want to watch “Destiny Dreams” at the palatial Ladies’ Cabaret just off of downtown. As a result what Chicago fans should be asking themselves is “Was this really Skiles’ fault or were we just not that good in the first place?” Currently I’m thinking it’s the latter instead of the former.


Furthermore the predicament the Bulls found themselves in wasn’t all that unusual because they’ve had several early-season slumps. Last season they started 3-9, in 2004 the squad had a 2-13 start, and in 2005 they were below .500 for most of November. If anything we should have been expecting a slow start because this group of guys never came racing out of the gates before. Skiles managed to guide those teams to the playoffs every year so it’s uncertain that he did a worse job this season than he did in any other.


Interestingly there’s some anecdotal evidence that the team was already starting to turn things around. After a horrid November, the team was starting to play .500 ball in December up until Skiles was fired and a soft schedule was just around the corner with teams that could have pushed the Bulls’ overall record back into the positive. Of course now that same cream-puff schedule (6 of the first 9 games the Bulls play after Skiles’ firing are against teams with losing records) will be used to produce wins that will be “evidence” that the team is uniting and winning games without Skiles. In that sense the firing is a win for the organization because it looks like the team did something and there’s likely going to be a change in winning percentage over the next few weeks that will make it look like something positive came of it even if nothing actually changed. Of course it’s questionable if that’s really a good thing because this small cosmetic change was essentially a substitute for any roster movement, so the Bulls are still stuck with the strippers that have pregnancy stretch marks and look like they’ve spent the last decade in a champagne room. If I was a Bulls fan, I’d be thinking this was a bad situation to be in.


Similarly the Jazz just pulled off a trade getting rid of Sloan’s favorite whipping boy in Gordan Giricek and bringing in Kyle Korver. In essence they just traded a relatively unathletic white three-point shooter who doesn’t play defense for a relatively unathletic white three-point shooter who doesn’t play defense who happens to look like Ashton Kutcher. While this may increase the team’s beefcake quotient (female fans will now have to choose whether to swoon over Matt Harpring’s “hustle” or dream of kissing Korver’s blowfishesque lips) Captain Jack’s Headband isn’t certain why this makes the team that has plummeted in the standings over the last 15 games suddenly good again. Utah’s problems seem to be a combination of Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer putting up great individual numbers but doing little to make their teammates productive and an interior defense that’s more wide open than the Spears family’s legs. Kyle Korver can’t do anything about that, but now the team gets to claim that it removed a bad apple from the locker room and score some short-term PR points. Never mind that by taking on Korver’s contract they virtually assured that they’ll be paying the luxury tax in the future if they want to keep the Boozer/Williams/Kirilenko/Okur core together, and I think we all know how NBA owners feel about paying the tax. Larry H. Miller seems about as open to the idea of paying David Stern a tax for having good players as Sean Hannity is to new ideas.


Of course at least those teams are trying something even if it’s something just to look good. The Rockets’ ownership is trying to play the injury card for what seems like the millionth year in a row. At this point I’m stunned that I haven’t seen a press release indicating that ownership plans to stand pat and evaluate what the team’s prospects are until Hakeem comes back. I’m sure Rockets fans with dreams of Yao, McGrady, Francis, Scola, Battier, and Rafer Alston carrying them to a championship are thrilled to see Aaron Brooks soak up minutes while Mike James and Steve Francis accumulate DNP-CDs. In that case it seems like the team stared into the void and just gave up all hope. Soon they’ll be screaming into it like Zach Braff at the end of Garden State.


Next they’ll be claiming that Tyler Perry actually makes good movies: As part of its ongoing NBA Cares campaign (which does give us some truly classic moments like photos of Ron Artest being tender with small children in African nations) the NBA has recently been airing commercials promoting HIV testing during its ESPN games. While NBA players dribble and dunk (inexplicably Magic Johnson is not among those showcasing their skills), Jamie Foxx intensely looks into the camera and asks “Did you know that AIDS is a leading cause of death among African Americans?” and then proceeds to encourage HIV testing. While Captain Jack’s Headband supports disease control CJH questions the need to try and scare African Americans into being tested; after all isn’t HIV already pretty F@&!$(# scary?


Foxx’s claim about HIV being a leading cause of death appears to be based in this CDC report with an accompanying table that indicates that HIV-related deaths account for roughly 2.7 % of deaths of African Americans. As a point of contrast the actual leading causes of death for both blacks and whites, Heart Disease and Cancer, account for roughly half of all deaths between the two of them. In fact, the CDC study reveals that an African American is more likely to die because they’re the victim of a homicide than because of HIV infection. Curiously, NBA Cares chose not to run a commercial with Jamie Fox warning viewers “Watch out: Your neighbor might shoot you.” They even could have used Jayson Williams in that commercial so it’s not like it was for lack of an appropriate sponsor.


As long as the NBA is choosing to highlight disparities between the causes of death for races I anxiously await the commercial where Michael Cera informs the audience that 2.8% of white people die from influenza and pneumonia, so they should make sure to get their sniffles checked out by a doctor. Of course NBA Cares wouldn’t really scare people by highlighting that the flu is a leading killer and as a result it wouldn’t be making as much of an impact. While NBA Cares is a great idea from a league that increasingly wants to be seen as a positive force in society, it should be content to do so without making misleading statements in an alarmist tone. And show more pictures of Ron Artest in Africa – Captain Jack’s Headband can never get enough of those. Especially if it involves a small Angolan child getting this haircut:



Worst post of the week from the NBA’s worst blog (running feature): The NBA only has one official team blog in which the organization culls the community for its most knowledgeable fans and allows them insider access to the team. From this they write inspired and insightful posts that allow us to understand more not just about the team, but about ourselves. Clearly such an opportunity would be given to the elites of a team with a large fan base and enough drama to keep everyone interested like the Lakers, Knicks, Bulls, or Raptors. Nope, it’s a Utah Jazz blog called Jazzbots (a name so bad you couldn’t make up a worse one if you tried) and it features regular contributors that specialize in “blogoetry,” writing about the opinions of the 4th grade class they teach, and one who’s specially assigned to tell us all what it’s like to be a “Jazz wife.”


Reading Jazzbots always evokes a mixed reaction. Sometimes it’s incredibly memorable in the same way that seeing a truly phenomenal car crash can stick with you. Other times the syntax and strained metaphors are so bad it will make you feel nauseous like you’ve forgotten to stop by the methadone clinic to ease the pain of withdrawal from quality writing. At least once a week there’s something so bizarre or incomprehensible it deserves special mention. Captain Jack’s Headband will highlight the worst example every week and treat that submission with the type of respect it deserves: none.


As the opening salvo, Captain Jack’s Headband wants to highlight the full transcript of Tammy Rasmussen’s post “The Bet.”  Putting aside the horrific writing and tacit acknowledgement that the author knows nothing about basketball (including that she didn’t even know who was playing on the night of “the bet”), let’s just say that after reading this I’m convinced that she shouldn’t have been betting $20 under any circumstances. That’s money that has to be put towards paying for her trailer’s parking spot and she can’t afford to lose it.