Monday, October 25, 2010

The Orlando Also-rans?

With the 2010-2011 NBA season set to kick-off in less than 24 hours now, we bring you a last minute guest team preview courtesy of the skilled Clint Peterson. Be sure to follow him on Twitter for some quality NBA tweets. Without further adieu, here is Clint's forecast of last season's Eastern Conference runner-ups, the suddenly overlooked Orlando Magic.

While you were watching the Finals last June, Dwight Howard was working on his "Milk Shake." Allow me to explain...

"Gotta tell you guys that I haven’t been able to watch one game in the Finals yet. I can’t really watch it at all. Every time I turn on the TV and I see a Celtic or a Laker I kind of get ticked off. Sorry, that’s just the way that I feel.

I wanted to tell you guys about what I was doing last week. I’m not just sitting around and feeling sorry for myself about losing to Boston. I decided to get back to work on my game immediately, so I went to Houston to work out with Hall of Fame center Hakeem 'The Dream' Olajuwon. We worked three hours a day for five days last week.

Hakeem showed me some things with footwork and shots off fakes to get free. He was always so patient in the post and it was like he had defenders on a string with his moves. So I’m just trying to pick up as much as I can from him.

Hakeem had the Dream Shake, but mine is going to be the Milk Shake."

From The Official Dwight Howard Blog

Everything for Orlando once again begins with Howard. It's the endings of games that concerns them.

An atrocious freebie shooter, head coach Stan Van Gundy often been criticized by fans for being perceived as opting to stay away from Howard in the most critical of times with a game hanging in the balance. This leaves the Magic in unenviable position of needing to start out a game ahead and trying to stay there. This is paramount to what makes soccer one of the most unpopular sports in America, as most teams try to come out hard, get a lead, then spend the rest of the game simply defending it. You gotta play to win in the NBA, not play not to lose.

Throw in the fact that the Magic love to die by the 3-pointer and you suddenly lose a lot of options for winning ball games. Indeed, in losing to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Final last spring, Doc's boys watched the Magic heave 92 3's for only 28% in their four losses, and 53 of 'em for 43% in their two wins.

When you're down your instinct wants to take over and make that big-point play that gets you back into it, further removing the center of their game from the action, as 3-ball attempts tend to bounce away from the bigs as often as not. The league's leading 3-heavers (2241 3-FGAs in 2010-2011) need more offensive options.

So the question for the Magic and Howard is did they do so?

Key Losses

After failing to lure Raja Bell to LA, Kobe Bryant then set his sights on I-love-to-hate-this-guy 1a, Matt Barnes. Barnes took the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" route, joining the Lakers, although personally I think his tattoos would have been a better fit for Denver. He was made for that Nuggets mentality.

Also out are Adonyl Foyle and Anthony Johnson.

Nothing much "key" about any of this.

Key Additions

Journeymen Malik Allen, Chris Duhon, and Quentin Richardson who had seemed to have finally found a home with the Heat until the Big 3 2.0 came prancing into town. Also in are rookie draft picks Daniel Orton and Stanley Robinson.

Again, nothing very "key" about it. The Magic brass decided to simply try and tweak the roster a bit, rather than mess around with what should again be an easy 2-seed in the Eastern Conference, probably a smart move considering Orlando is leading the league in the preseason in both offense and defense. Q Rich should fit into the Magic's "4-out/1-in" offense better than Barnes did, however.

Since we've already covered Dwight himself, let's check out Howard's help.

Jameer "Half-year" Nelson

Nelson has yet to play a full 82 games in his career, and regressed a bit stat-wise last season from his previous All-star one. However, if he stays healthy his tenacity and toughness when he is on the court will relieve some of the pressure on Howard to create a post move he doesn't yet have with his mean drive through the paint. Defenders have to collapse on him or he will bull his way to the basket for an easy two. When he keeps 'em honest it makes for easy pickings for Howard on a dish-off.

I'd like to see more of this this season from the pair. It's highly effective.


Last year Vince Carter added a bit of that flavor I mentioned earlier in the form of another option on offense. He's the sole Magic man that is a real threat to create something from nothing off the dribble. It honestly seemed like a bad idea to throw him in there since he's always been used to being "The Man," but he pleasantly surprised by fitting in well.

There's still some gas left in that tank. Expect Carter to once again contribute to the success of Orlando, both in the regular and more so this year, the postseason.

Rashard "Don't Forget About Me!" Lewis

Um, yeah. Not goin' there....

Suffice it to say, if the Magic don't get something from him this season I'm dubbing him "The Next Jermaine O'Neal."

The Role Players

The Magic have 'em aplenty! Brandon Bass gets his very own mention at the top of this section for showing up stellar in the preseason. He was basically transparent last year, but seems to have found his niche alongside the, Polish Hammer, Marcin Gortat. The pair have found a chemistry in the preseason that Orlando hopes will carry over all regular season long.

Playing with either/or Jason Williams and JJ Redick in the backcourt, and the likes of now-starter Mikael Pietrus and Ryan Anderson on the wings, as well as the aforementioned new additions, the Magic have one of the deepest, most talented benches in the NBA.

You can also expect to see plenty of minutes where SVG puts out his version of the Twin Towers, Howard and Gortat together, something I relish seeing on the hardwood. A few offensive sets for this pair wouldn't hurt, in my opinion.

Projected starting lineup

PG Jameer Nelson

SG Vince Carter

SF Mikael Pietrus

PF Rashard Lewis

C Dwight Howard

Probable win/loss total


Divisional prediction

1st in the Southeast

While most have the Miami, Heat already crowned, or at least in the Finals losing to LA, I'm not yet ready to hand them even the divisional the hardware. The Magic have looked awful good thus far and didn't get any worse compared to last year. Add to that the fact that the Magic are 8-4 against LeBron-led teams over the last two years, including a 4-2 playoff boot year-before-last, and Orlando is poised to make a whole lot of experts look silly. Again.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


She reminded me of a cat. She was like Catwoman.

She stood about 5'7", with long legs and she often wore black leggings. It gave her a certain sleekness, and she seemed to even walk like a cat, especially when she had on those magical black leggings.

She was light-skinned, and cute as a rabbit's ear. In particular she had the type of nose that makes you want to poke it with your index finger. She also had nice lips.

She had jet black hair, which she would wear in either a pony-tail or at full-length; more effectively at full length, of course, as all women look better with their hair down, but it didn't matter. She looked wonderful from the neck up, no matter how she wore her locks.

She also had very nice hands and feet.

And now for the best part:

This girl had a Grade A+ ass on her.

She didn't have much in the chest area, but she more than made up for it in her hind parts. To my liking she had a perfect ass; though it was big, it fit her overall body type - tall and thin - and just in general had a perfect weight to it.

It was sort of, dare I say it and risk blasphemy, like a J-Lo ass. Maybe not as big, but like that, ya know? You get the point. It was perfect.

She was perfect.

Friday, July 2, 2010

This One Broad

She was light-skinned with dimples, a certified cutie pie with a tremendous smile.

She had curly hair and she always smelled good; I think it may have been the hair product she used, though I'm not sure.

It's hot out here, and she often wore shorts with sandals.

She had nice thighs and legs and nice feet.

Naturally, I suppose, she also had nice hands.

She stood about 5'1", it looked to me, and was thick but not too thick, if you know what I mean; she was just right, like a delicious stack of pancakes that would leave you full but not stuffed.

We shared a class together last semester.

I'm not going to beat around the bush or try to disguise the feeling she gave me, instead I'll be perfectly frank:

I wanted to bang her.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Kobe's Greatest Playoff Series'

Following the Lakers' closeout victory of the Suns in the Western Conference Finals Saturday night, Bill Simmons tweeted: "Great series by Kobe. One of his best." Which got me to thinking - what are Kobe's greatest postseason series performances? Here's my take - listed in chronological order:

2001 Western Conference Semifinals versus Kings: 4 gms, 43.3 mpg, 35.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 4.3 apg, 1.25 spg, .473 fg%. Lakers win 4-0.

On the way to an all-time NBA-best 15-1 postseason record, the Lakers swept Portland in the first round before taking on a Kings team that had won a (then) team-record 55 games during the regular season (only one less than Los Angeles). After taking a backseat to Shaq during the first two games as L.A. protected their home court (behind a prime Diesel's 44-21 and 43-20 showings), Bryant played the lead in Sacramento. He scored 36 in Game 3 as L.A. took a commanding 3-0 series lead, and then (in what Simmons last year called Bryant's best single playoff game performance) went off for 48 points and 16 rebounds in leading L.A. to their second consecutive sweep. The game was highlighted by Bryant's sick crossover on Doug Christie before serving up a nasty facial on Vlade Divac.

2001 Western Conference Finals versus Spurs: 4 gms, 42.0 mpg, 33.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 7.0 apg, 1.5 spg, .514 fg%. Lakers win 4-0.

In the very next series the Lakers took on a Spurs team that had finished with the league's best regular season mark (58-24). Bryant followed up his 48-16 in the closeout of the Sacramento series with a 45 point, 10 rebound performance in Game 1 against the Spurs, as the Lakers took the homecourt advantage. In case you're scoring at home, that's a total of 93 points and 26 rebounds (by a guard, no less) in consecutive road playoff games. He scored 28 in Game 2, including a back-breaking three late (followed by a Derek Fisher dagger from behind the arc, as L.A. broke San Antonio's spirits by taking a 2-0 lead heading to the Staples Center. By the time the series reached Los Angeles the Spurs had already surrendered mentally, and the Lakers proceeded to stomp them into the ground, winning by 39 in Game 3 as Bryant went for 36-9-8, and 29 in Game 4 as he went for 24 points and 11 assists. The Lakers had run their record to a perfect 11-0 to start the playoffs, and only an inspired effort by a gutsy Allen Iverson-led Sixers team in Game 1 of the Finals would keep L.A. from becoming the first NBA team to sweep through an entire postseason.

2008 Western Conference Semifinals versus Jazz: 6 gms, 41.3 mpg, 33.2 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 7.2 apg, .491 fg%. Lakers win 4-2.

It was during the first three rounds of this postseason that I believe Bryant played not only the best all-around ball of his career, but achieved a level of basketball mastery no player ever had before. This series is kind of inconspicuous compared to the others on the list, but Bryant was brilliant. Only back spasms suffered during Game 3 managed to slow Bryant as the Lakers ousted Utah on the way to our next series.

2008 Western Conference Finals versus Spurs: 5 gms, 40.4 mpg, 29.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.6 spg, .533 fg%. Lakers win 4-1.

This series featured the least eye-popping statistical output from Bryant of the performances on the list. But the thing that stood out about this one was the control Bryant displayed. He picked his spots beautifully and literally scored whenever he wanted - saving his best offensive production for the final period, of course. It was totally arbitrary. In Game 1 he scored two points in the first half - followed by eleven in the third and fourteen in the fourth. In Game 5 he scored 13 in the first half - then nine in the third and seventeen in the fourth to close out the series. At the time, I compared Bryant to a person who had mastered a video game.

The Celtics would shut Bryant down in the Finals, denying him a fourth title in the process, but I'll never forget the level he reached for the six or so weeks before they did.

2009 Western Conference Finals versus Nuggets: 6 gms, 34.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 6.2 apg, 1.5 spg, .481 fg%. Lakers win 4-2.

Following a seven-game series with a gritty Rockets team that hassled Bryant with Shane Battier and a terrific team defense, the Lakers were met by a tough and talented Nuggets club trying to prevent them from making a second straight Finals appearance. On a podcast with Simmons,'s J.A. Adande (who has followed Bryant the player's entire career) noted that he heard Bryant admit to being tired for the first time ever. Finally, Bryant's body language was showing effects of the considerable mileage of a long career of big minutes and deep playoff runs - a matter complicated by a physical Nuggets team that beat him up with multiple defenders and a strong help defense that met him at every turn.

Which is what made Bryant's performance in the series all the more impressive. After winning a hard-fought Game 1 in which Bryant scored 40 points, the Lakers lost the home court advantage in Game 2, only to regain it in Game 3 behind 41 more from the Black Mamba. Following the latter effort, Bryant conducted the right-after-the-game interview bent over, tugging on his shorts, barely even able to catch his breath. In the closeout in Game 6, Bryant scored 35 points on 12-of-20 shooting, grabbed six boards and handed out 10 assists - Simmons called it the second best playoff game of Kobe's career.

In the Finals the Lakers beat the Magic in five, and Bryant cemented his legacy by winning a fourth title.

Western Conference Finals versus Suns: 6 gms, 41.7 mpg, 33.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 8.3 apg, .521 fg%. Lakers win 4-2.

The Suns were game, but the Lakers were better and now find themselves heading to the NBA Finals for the third year in a row. Bryant was amazing in the series. He scored at least 30 points in all but one game - and in that one game he handed out a career playoff-high 13 assists. In total he had three double-digit assist games, and dished out nine in the dramatic Game 5 win (which will forever be known as The Artest Game). His jump shot was simply unbelievable - he made 19 threes and at times it seemed he couldn't miss. As is his custom, he made a lot of tough ones - most notably the last shot he made, in the clinching Game 6, a long two over a perfectly defending Grant Hill, right in front of Alvin Gentry on the Phoenix sideline. Then he turned to Gentry and gave him a little pat on the butt before spreading his arms and making like an airplane on the way back to the L.A. bench.

If Kobe can have another great series, this time against the Celtics in the Finals, he will likely win a fifth world title. Here's hoping I can add another series to this list in a few weeks.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

How Will You Remember Me?

How will you remember him?

Wednesday night Phil Jackson passed Pat Riley to become the winningest coach in Lakers history. Of course, he is also the winningest coach in Bulls history.

Recently, Jackson discussed which of the two franchises he most identifies himself with. He was stuck in between.

"I'd have to have a jacket with both sides -- one side Lakers, the other side Bulls," Jackson said.

But it's not fair to choose both. He has to choose one. Well, obviously he doesn't, because he didn't. But the question remains: Which team do you associate Jackson with the most?

Personally, I think it's hard to say. To date he has won ten championships, six of them with Chicago. Two separate three-peats, as the overseer of Michael Jordan's decade of fame and dominance. As the late, great David Halberstam noted in his book about His Airness, Jordan was arguably the most well-known American - not just athlete, but American - in the world. He was bigger than not just the game but sports itself, and his outsized notoriety helped make the Bulls a vessel of media attention and national exposure. With Jordan, Jackson, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman (joining for the second three-peat), the Bulls were (as Halberstam put it) the Beatles of basketball, especially during the second half of the 90s. Thanks to Jordan's celebrity and its ability (along with the team's startling success) to make almost everyone around him a household name, the Bulls became the equivalent of an insanely popular rock band that everybody wanted to get a glimpse of when they traveled into town.

The Bulls were a national phenomenon. I guess the necessity that everyone felt to get a piece of them made them a circus, in a sense. But the Lakers were a circus in the truest meaning of the word. The Bulls had their drama - Rodman's crazy antics, the rift between Jackson and the players and management - but they couldn't touch the Shaq-Kobe-Phil Lakers in that regard. As has been well-documented, those teams were the epitome of dysfunction. O'Neal and Bryant coexisted uneasily on the way to three titles and four Finals appearances in the five seasons they played together under Jackson. They got along very well for one (2002), awkwardly but peacefully for another (2003, when Bryant, playing as single-mindedly as ever but receiving vocal endorsements from O'Neal, sort of informally took over as the team's first option on offense while still not taking full control of the alpha dog steering wheel), completely business-like in another (2000, with Bryant okay with the pecking order and fulfilling Jackson's ideal role for him), and were at each other's throats for the two others (2001 and 2004). And Jackson often found himself mired in the fray. While his spats with O'Neal were innocent and inconsequential, his clashes with Bryant were more serious, as he struggled to get his young pupil to conform to the parameters of the triangle offense and good team basketball.

By their final season together in 2004, with a rape trial hanging over Bryant's head, the Shaq-Kobe feud having grown more personal than ever, Phil and Kobe having come to an un-friendly truce (said Bryant at that year's All-Star weekend: "I don't like Phil as a person, but I love him as a coach"), the suddenly even greater expectation of a championship that came with the additions of Karl Malone and Gary Payton, Shaq's desire for a contract extension, and the uncertainty about the future that came with Jackson and Bryant's impending free agency, the Lakers were pretty much a team (and organization) in chaos. That team in particular may have received the most media attention of any single NBA team of ever, including the famed "Last Dance" Bulls of 1998, who had Jordan nearing potential retirement, nearly all of the pivotal components approaching free agency, and the players aligning themselves, behind Jackson, against GM Jerry Krause (Jackson's arch-nemesis) and owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

Neither O'Neal nor Bryant can or could single-handily match the starpower of Jordan, but together they pretty much equaled it. When L.A. went on the road they were always a guaranteed sell-out, too, and their appearances were also seen as events. Plus (and here's the kicker), Jackson had now become a superstar himself. He was wildly successful as the coach of the Bulls, but the bright lights of L.A. turned him into something more: arguably the most famous basketball coach of all-time. Only Pat Riley and maybe John Wooden could pose a conceivable threat to him in this regard. The nature of Los Angeles made Jackson the kind of star who could stand on his own, a force unto himself in the basketball world. He arrived with a sterling track record and proceeded to tack onto it in Hollywood. He left and came back again, winning another ring. His player-coach relationship with Bryant is perhaps even more notable than the one he shared with Jordan, and he has actually now coached in L.A. one year longer than he did in Chicago. And the city just fits him, what with his big ego and larger-than-life personality.

His contract in L.A. runs out after this season. Another title or two would likely floor the argument. But (and I admit bias on my part when I say this, as a diehard Lakers fan) if I had to lean in one direction, I think I can already say that I will remember Phil Jackson as coach of the Lakers. He and this team were simply made for each other.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Sticking In My Craw

LenDale White goes into the end-zone for one of his three touchdowns against Texas in the BCS championship game following the 2005 season. He finished with 124 yards on 20 carries.

I have to get this out of my system.

From Bill Plaschke's column in the LA Times on Wednesday, the day after Lane Kiffin was named Pete Carroll's replacement as head coach at USC:

"A program that thrives on the big play just hitched its future to a guy who was holding the controls during this team's worst play in many years.

"It was the Rose Bowl after the 2005 season, the Trojans needed one first down to clinch the win and national title against Texas, it was forth and two, remember?

"USC called a running play with LenDale White plowing straight ahead while Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush incredibly watched from the sidelines. White was stopped, Texas took the ball and eventually a game, the dynasty's downfall began.

"The offensive coordinator for that play? Your new USC head coach, Lane Kiffin.

"What was Mike Garrett thinking?"

And then, from Friday's edition, by Chris Foster and Gary Klein, in regards to offensive coordinator Norm Chow's decision to remain at UCLA rather than return to USC:

"...USC fans have been slow to forget that it was Kiffin who was calling plays when the Trojans failed to convert a fourth-quarter, fourth-and-two running play in the Bowl Championship Series title game against Texas in January 2006.

"Bush was standing on the sideline when tailback LenDale White was stopped short of the first down."


This line of thinking always irritated me, for the sheer stupidity of it, but this week it's really gotten to me, to the point that I'm about to snap. If you know anything about USC football from 2003-2005, you know that LenDale White was the short-yardage and goal-line back for the Trojans. Reggie Bush was one of the best college football players of all-time, but White was SC's hammer, and with good reason: At 6-1 and 235 lbs, White was your prototype big back, and he was damned good. In fact, he was great. At the University known as Tailback U, White holds the record for most rushing touchdowns with 52. In only three years of play, mind you. He also finished with 3,159 yards and a 5.9 yards per carry average. In 2005, Bush's Heisman-winning season, White rushed for 1,302 yards and 24 touchdowns!

And a lot of those touchdowns were a result of White's size and his skill around the goal-line area, where he served as Mr. Reliable in the greatest offense in college football history. Similarly, in short yardage situations - like, say, fourth-and-2 - White was SC's go-to-guy. The thing is, I thought everyone knew this. When Bush was drafted the experts said he wouldn't be an every down back. He wasn't at USC. He's just not a big guy: 6'0", 200 lbs and that's probably being generous. Why would he be the short yardage back over someone as big and good as White - who only fulfilled the same role with the Titans two years ago, scoring fifteen touchdowns on the ground as the thunder to Chris Johnson's lighting. In fact, in college White and Bush were even nicknamed "Thunder and Lightning." Again, I thought this was understood.

I guess not. And the worst part is, in this instance we're talking about local people who are still criticizing the call! It's one thing for people not as familiar with the situation to be critical (although they are not excused either; if they're going to speak about it they should know their stuff); it's another for the people who are actually from Los Angeles and followed the team and know better.

People like, um, Plaschke and USC fans. Yeah.

Are you really going to second guess the call just because it failed, when it worked so many times in the past? When they won 34 straight games with the same exact strategy? C'mon son. If USC was going to go for it there (another decision that is oft criticized but should have been just as anticipated, considering that SC always went for it in those situations; the confidence in the offense was the most high, and rightfully so), White was the guy who was going to get the ball. The calling of his number should have only been expected.

So, please, for my sake, stop being so idiotic. You're killing me.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Not Enough Time

In nine seasons at USC, Pete Carroll amassed a record of 97-19 (.836) and won 2 national championships.

When I heard Friday morning that the Seattle Seahawks had fired Jim Mora, my reaction, like everyone else's, was "Hmmmmmmm...that's odd." Afterall, Mora had been handpicked as Mike Holmgren's successor in Seattle and had only been at the helm for one year. Little did I know that, later in the day, it would become evident that it was part of Seattle's scheme to make one of my worst sporting nightmares a reality.

Pete Carroll held a goodbye press conference from Heritage Hall Monday afternoon, formally announcing that he was stepping down as head football coach of the USC Trojans to take over the same position with the Seahawks, and recapping the nine years of great success and great times he enjoyed while at the school.

Great times and great fun times they indeed were, for an entire city, and they're over far too soon.

An arrow was officially pierced through the heart of Los Angeles today, and it's not a Cupid's arrow, because there is nothing at all for this town's football fans to love about this scenario (except for the ones who chant for U-C-L-A).

To call what Carroll rebuilt here at USC a "powerhouse" would be to understate just how dominant the Trojans were in his tenure. Carroll built a dynasty, a machine, leading USC on one of the most jawdropping runs of excellence in the history of college football. After going 6-6 in his first year here in 2001, Carroll's Trojans went 82-9 over the next seven years, winning back-to-back national titles in 2003 (splitting with LSU when the AP voted USC as their season-ending #1) and 2004 and seven consecutive Pac-10 titles. They went 6-1 in BCS Bowl games and produced three Heisman trophy winners. In the 2005 BCS title game versus Texas, they came one epic Vince Young performance away from becoming the first college football team ever to win three straight national titles. In all that time, they did not win fewer than 11 games, and most mind-boggling of all, they lost no games by more than six points. In his first eight seasons at the helm, they lost one game by double-digits: to Notre Dame by 11 in 2001.

It's a sign of the standard of success that was created that USC went 9-4 and won a bowl game this year and the season was considered a catastrophe. They failed to win the conference and suffered two blowout defeats, to Oregon and Stanford. You figured they would get back in the BCS picture, but those big losses made it seem like the end of an era. Could they ever regain the same mystique and swagger?

An era is over in more ways than one now, with Carroll, the face of the school and an icon in the city, out the door, and who knows what about to possibly enter. The timing of his departure seems suspicious. It's cold in Seattle, and while Carroll denies that his decision to leave now was influenced by ongoing NCAA investigations into the Reggie Bush and Joe McKnight scandals...well, if NCAA sanctions are indeed leveled upon the football program, I can envision Trojan Country not being too happy with their beloved Pete.

But even if he's just trying to beat the tidal wave, I really don't care; I have already chosen to remember all of the good things, all of the fun Carroll recounted at the presser. The team was so influential in the city. No NFL team? No problem. Outside of New England, no city, college or pro, got more joy or cherished moments out of their football team. When Kobe fell from grace and the Lakers fell into mediocrity, it was Matt Leinart who became the city's most popular athlete and the Trojans who became its most popular team. Those Leinart-Bush teams, 2005 especially, transcended college football and became a real Hollywood team, not much un-like the Lakers during the Shaquille O'Neal-Bryant days. And if Leinart and Bush were Shaq and Kobe, then Carroll was Phil Jackson, made for it all. It wouldn't have been the same without him, or been possible. He was huge in the community, too, trying to inspire the troubled young men in this city, taking late night van rides to dangerous neighborhoods and giving pep talks to guys who needed them. He says he will continue his work in the community here, which offers some solace.

It was wishful thinking to believe he would stay here forever; Trojans fans didn't want to believe it, but it was really only a matter of time before he went back to the NFL. He's flirted with multiple pro teams over the past several years and conventional wisdom has always said that he would return. His mantra here was "always compete," and the man is a fierce competitor. His stay in the NFL is often misrepresented as a complete failure, when in actuality he compiled a respectable record of 33-31 with the Patriots and Jets. But it has never been a secret that Carroll was not satisfied with his work there, and was interested in another shot.

"If you know anything about me, you know I can't pass up this challenge," he said Monday.

But he was such a natural fit in the city, so synonymous with the school - in my dreams Carroll was supposed to grow old at USC, like Paterno did in Happy Valley and Bowden did in Tallahassee. There were more games to be won for Carroll at USC, more fun to be had.

But it was always a dream, and for Pete the time was right. He thanked everyone who supported the program during his final press conference at the school Monday. On behalf of everyone he thanked, I'd like to thank him, too.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Dwight Howard Is No Superman

Dwight Howard is a great player. Having just recently turned 24, in his sixth year out of high school, he has already been named All-NBA three times (first team twice, third team once), All-defense twice (once each first and second team), won a Defensive Player of the Year award and been the centerpiece of a team that went to the Finals. In the past two seasons his team won 52 and 59 games, and so far this season they are 24-10. Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy has devised this killer inside-outside offense in which Howard is the key. Orlando surrounds him with four shooters, and is able to survive playing only one non-perimeter player because Howard can handle all of the rebounding and shot-blocking responsibilities by his lonesome. Anyway you look at it, he is one of the league's most valuable players, a true franchise guy, one of the top three guys in the league that you would most like to build your team around.

But the thing is, they call him the league's new Superman. We all know who the original was, and I'm here to tell you all that, Dwight Howard, my friends, is no Superman. He's simply not worthy of the title, at least not yet. Howard can rebound and block shots with anyone in the past 10 years - in particular I think he is the best natural rebounder since Dennis Rodman. But as far as being a dominant offensive force, as Shaquille O'Neal was in his heyday and as Howard should be to truly earn such a nickname, Howard is far from it and I'm starting to doubt that he ever will be.

Through five seasons, Howard has never averaged more than 20.7 points per 36 minutes, and (through Monday) this year is averaging only 17.5 - that's his lowest average in that department since his second year. By comparison, Shaq averaged 22.2 as a 20-year-old rookie - followed 26.5 at 21, 28.5 at 22 and 26.5 at 23. An excuse is often made that Howard doesn't get enough touches, that his teammates don't pass him the ball enough. There is certainly an argument to be made for this - per 36 minutes, Howard has never taken more than 12.5 shots a game, and this year he's taking only 9.3, his lowest since his rookie year. Recently on TNT, Chris Webber made the point about Howard's lack of touches, and when Kenny Smith countered by pointing out Howard's deficit of post moves Webber replied that young Shaq didn't have many post moves, either, and still managed to get his touches. This is true, also.

I think the difference is two things. For one, Shaq was the kind of overpowering force that Howard is not. For all of the comparisons, we must remember that Howard is listed as two inches shorter and 40 pounds lighter than Shaq has been listed at in any point in his professional career. At 6'11" Howard is written down at 265, at 7'1" O'Neal never less than 305. He is clearly outsized by Shaq, and is no bigger than the size of man Shaq ate for breakfast and got remnants of stuck between his teeth during his prime. Granted Shaq did that to everybody, to men bigger than Howard (see Sabonis, Arvydas), but still.

Of course with that being said, Howard is the most physically impressive and overpowering force in the game today. He is not at the level of O'Neal, but he is the closest thing we have - I concede that. He is a man amongst boys, and people tackle, er, foul Howard to prevent him easy layups and dunks in the same way they did to Shaq in his prime. But - here comes difference number two - Howard lacks the personality of a dominant offensive player. Something tells me if he really wanted that ball, I mean if he really wanted it, if he had that gene that great big men scorers have, he would be getting it. He might say he wants it, but men like O'Neal demand it. Their games insists upon it, and their personalities do, too.

Howard reminds me of Kevin Garnett. Like Garnett, Howard is a dominant rebounder and defender but not a naturally dominant offensive player. In Garnett's case the skills were there, but as with Howard not the mindset. Garnett was always somewhat reluctant as Minnesota's top offensive threat. He always would have been better off in the situation he's found himself in in Boston, with other, more natural scorers around to equally share the load (and carry the crunch-time responsibilities). He doesn't have to worry about being The Man there, not in the traditional sense; he can focus first on being the complete, all-around menace that he is and think about scoring second. This was the key to Boston's title run two years ago - finally Garnett was put in a situation that best suited his immense talents. And while the Big Three shared the credit (and rightfully so), it was Garnett who was most pivotal to the Celtics' success.

I wonder if Howard is the same way, if maybe we need to reconsider how we think he should be used. Maybe he will peak as an S-class (Shoefly lingo) big man who gets 18-20 points a game rather than 25-30, but protects the rim and rebounds like no other and still wins multiple championships, the modern day Bill Russell rather than the second coming of Shaq. No one would complain about that scenario taking place; in fact I'd rather see the next Russell than the next Shaq, because there hasn't been anyone like Russ since Russ, and Russ retired 40 years ago.

As an offensive player, David Robinson was further along at this stage in his career than Howard is in his. Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon were, too, albeit by lesser margins. I can honestly say that, best case scenario, I don't ever see Howard averaging more than about 23 points a game. But whatever happens in the future, and whether or not we need to recalibrate our expectations for Howard, for right now the least we need to do is put a moratorium on calling him Superman. I suppose it really doesn't matter, but technically it is inaccurate to call him that.

And if the nickname doesn't fit, we must quit.