Monday, November 6, 2017

The Cleveland Cavaliers' historical duds

Andre Drummond's free throw technique, and Chaka Khan. And Rufus.

The Cavaliers looked miserable on Sunday, losing to the Atlanta Hawks as Isaiah Taylor dipped his way toward 14 and Dennis Schroder dove his way into 28. The Cavs fell in a 22-point loss masquerading as a 117-115 defeat. The loss drops the defending Eastern champs to 4-6, 12th in a conference where professionalism (Boston, Detroit, Orlando) has had a say.

Your screens have lined up for another Clyde Drexler Trade, wondering which scenario could best gift LeBron James with a famous and obvious solution that we’ve all heard of, as the champion Houston Rockets worked when they sent unhappy big man Otis Thorpe to Portland in 1995 for Drexler and, the story goes, the resultant championship with Pete Chilcutt starting at power forward.

Cleveland kind of plays in that Chilcutt style, sorry Pete, they’re cranking at 30th out of 30 NBA teams at the stat they call “defense” and there are no more problem spots. They’ll win games, but this is not my kind of team.

Rarely do the implosions – the realizations – come this early. Other failed Finals participants tend to get a season that slowly chips away prior to a second-round loss in late May, but these Cavs couldn’t even make it out of Atlanta on the same day that the Falcons and Panthers play. It’s November, early November, and there is genuine concern as to whether this team can even provide a competent showing on Christmas, when it comes time to line up against the champs from Golden State again.

The fear isn’t that Cleveland can’t hold up to scrutiny in a 48-minute setting, that ability was proven yet again on Friday when James dragged the Cavs to a road win behind those 57 points against Washington. You can’t rely on those sorts of outbursts, though, in a season that drags for 82 games – more importantly, James can’t save his best for certain nights, at age almost-33, and the Cavs can’t pretend like they have that in their back pocket.

Even though that’s the organization’s only hope, right now. That this can somehow hang until spring, when a series can spread out over a week or two and James can decimate one game at a time. It’s not an unworkable reality, even if it is the worst possible plan.

The Cavaliers didn’t look like a championship contender on Friday. All they looked like is a team with LeBron James on it, and ask the state of Ohio how that’s worked out. Every single season save the 3-1 year is a reminder that this is a team sport, and that it really helps if the franchise behind the team isn’t the Cleveland Cavaliers.

There aren’t any injuries here, like in 1977 when Bill Walton came down on his doped-up foot the wrong way, or in 2000 when Tim Duncan had to watch his first title defense from the sidelines.

You can’t blame this on a generational shift, those things happen in the spring anyway, and no would-be contender is hopping up out of the East. Remember, the Wizards still just lost to Cleveland, playing with the same defense that made a star of Isaiah Taylor, in Washington.

Most striking, for Cavs fans and front office alike, remains the presence of James. His attendance makes all these Cavs inimitable in the face of other comparable post-Finals fades of yore: Iverson’s Sixers, the Moses-led Rockets, the Drexler-led Blazers, the freaking Jazz and Pacers.

Phoenix had something going on like this, though, at one point.

The Barkley scenario was different. Phoenix had been a contender for years, but the outfit really felt like New Money when it traded assets for an actual All-Star human in Charles, back in 1992. His first season in Arizona resulted in an MVP and a Finals trip, by the time Michael Jordan retired a few months after the visit to the championship round, Barkley had made his own rounds past SNL and Sports Illustrated covers, and 1993-94 was pitched as Sir’s coronation.

That’s a one-season soap opera gone wrong, though, before Barkley’s back gave out and the no-defense Suns (led by an ex-player and now head coach in former pro Paul Westphal) fell to Houston in 1994.

(During that same playoff run, Kevin Johnson loudly signed a contract extension that he boasted would be his final as a pro:

Johnson says flatly he's going to retire after three more seasons, no waffling like teammate Charles Barkley."I'm not like Charles," Johnson said. "I'm not going to sway back and forth. Basketball will never consume my whole life."

He would go on to play just 56 games beyond that contract, 50 with the 1996-97 Phoenix Suns, a team that I began working on a book about this summer, one that we’ll probably instead share at The Second Arrangement.)

The Suns responded by tinkering expertly – sending All-Star Dan Majerle to the bluebird 1995-96 Cavs for central casting big man John “Hot Rod” Williams, adding do-it-all savior Danny Manning – but the injury woes piled up as the West rose around them. By 1995 Seattle was a stud you could trust, and even the Jazz had the late 1990s somehow found a second half in American life. Barkley, not a free agent every summer as LeBron, forced a trade to the tottering Rockets in 1996.

If the 2017-18 Cleveland Cavaliers had a notion on any such deals, you’d have read and chatted about them now. The problems here are multifold, as often happens with James each of his teammates that would work perfectly alongside him in other years are unfortunately playing in 2017-18, and though this uncertainty is fully the fault of ownership, no steward in any front office position could wave his way out of this lineup. The Cavs have a whole team to rebuild in this re-season, and no competing front office is sending them Clyde Drexler.

That’s Cleveland’s problem. They should have been asking for Otis Thorpe all along.

Hollywood

A hit for a reason, this song was, that city is. A minor hit.

Shows what a song can do. Midwestern transplant Dave “Hawk” Wolinski wrote this for Rufus right after joining the band. The album cover pictured above is what the band looked like when he joined, offering this song as payment for induction. Here’s what the album cover looked like the next time around:
You can’t see Chaka for shit. On the back cover, as Andrew Lawrence pointed out, that’s Hawk on the lower right:

No Action

It wasn’t Andre Drummond’s free stroke that provided the most deleterious effect on Detroit Piston games, offensive ineptitude and a fully-explained sense of malaise took care of most of that, but it didn’t help. He used to make just over a third of his freebies, after long pauses at the stripe, usually following basketball “action” designed to send Andre to his least favorite place.

The flow now crimped, the free throw routine was typically drawn out and unpleasant and I had usually switched back to the Bucks game by the time the attempts played out.

That’s changed, as detailed by James Herbert at CBS: Drummond and his staff went out of their way to make his form “repeatable,” to use Herbert’s expert description, something that you can lean on at the nail both in live action on Channel 755, or safely tucked away in Stan Van Gundy’s practice afterhours.

He purposefully wobbles at the line, gathering himself like a yuppie pouring over the rails at a gym he’d just joined, before rising to toss it in. Drummond has made it so his movements resemble someone arching his arms to shoot something into a wastebasket after a yawning stretch. He’s made it natural, unique to his own life.

(Early assumptions that Drummond had taken to emulating James Donaldson’s approach at the line, based off of the two freebies I saw him hit at the 1988 All-Star Game, somewhat held up.)

There is nothing natural about a 7-footer shooting free throws. I don’t care if other 7-footers have made it work at the free throw line with regularity, they’re the freaks in this instance.

If you are of average height and basketball skill, or even less, the next time you see a lowered rim you should run up to it and dunk on it with a basketball, then you should put a clip of that on the internet.

After that, you should take a 15-foot free throw on an 8-foot rim.

It’s like playing darts. With a basketball. And a mean metal rim. And people are watching.

When the rim level matches the height of your raised fingertips, putting an arc on your shot (in the space of fewer than 15 feet!) is damn, near impossible.

Drummond has gotten around this, as so many yuppies in the 1980s did (your Donaldsons, your Sikmas, even converted compact disc baby-boomers like Kareem), but having to worm his way around things. In an NBA world that has gotten kinder to taller people, Drummond shoots his free throws like Andre Drummond trying to make his way into the Uber driver’s Dodge Caliber.

He shoots it like a tall person, sadly, has to do most things. Awkwardly.

East St. Louis Toodle-Oo

Perhaps better, as I learned yesterday in conversation with my wife, to let William Burroughs handle this one.

Billy?

“These people are too fancy,” he says. “They’re too sophisticated, they’re doing too many things at once in a song.” He refers to the literary racket. “To write a bestseller, you can’t have too much going on,” he says. “You take The Godfather, the horse’s head. That’s great. But you can’t have a horse’s head on every page. These people tend to have too many horses’ heads.”

I love how Burroughs went with Puzo, instead of the movie. Fading hipsters, man.