Dwight Howard's reputation has made him an easy target in recent years. (Mandy Cheng/AFP/Getty Images)
• Sports narratives are easy. They offer a shorthand as to who a player, coach or team supposedly is, rendering their complexities into an easily parsed black and white. Such is case with the current public image of Dwight Howard, a man seen only for what he's done, as if he were incapable of growing or adapting in the ways that most all humans do. In an outstanding piece for TrueHoop, Kevin Arnovitz entrusts us to give Howard a break -- not because he's uniquely deserving of it, but because the more problematic dimensions of our discussions of Dwight act as an extension of the greater flaws with sports-related discourse in general.
When a player establishes a pattern of behavior over a sustained period of time, his reputation coagulates. We’re certain we know exactly who he is, and no one cuts him a break because it’s just too much fun. After all, he put himself in the schmuck box, and we’re under no obligation to let him out. We become overly possessive of a guy’s narrative, as if he has no say in the story going forward. We’re entitled to say what we want about him until the end of time. A statute of limitations is granted only upon the presentation of a ring, and, even then, the guy often has to undergo a massive rehabilitation.
The problem with this thinking is that it ignores a simple truth: A lot of callow people ultimately grow up. For most, it happens outside the glare of the public eye. You bump along, absorb a few of life’s blows and become more sensible about the tasks that come with being an adult. Those who are long on self-doubt become more confident, and those who see themselves as invincible learn a thing or two about their limitations.
None of this comes naturally to athletes at the highest level. Most pro ballplayers work like crazy, but, dating back to the moment they showed exceptional potential, most of their material needs have been met -- to say nothing of the gross amount of attention and approbation they've received along the way. When you've been given a ton of stuff, you become insulated, which makes those potholes on the road seem like craters.
• The general public will get its first taste of Sport VU on Friday, in whatever processed form was approved by the league's teams. I wouldn't expect anything too revolutionary, but there should be some interesting tidbits to glean from the data.
• With the Raptors' mascot sidelined for the foreseeable future, Toronto has introduced his replacement: The Raptor's younger cousin, Stripes. The team's official site has the full details, in which Stripes lists "meteors" among his dislikes. (via BDL)
• An early trend to watch this season: Paul George's increasingly sophisticated ball handling.
• Seerat Sohi, writing at Hardwood Paroxysm, takes a moment to fully appreciate the "brazenly beautiful" debut of Sixers point guard Michael Carter-Williams:
If there’s anything more tantalizing than a 6’6″ rookie point guard who registered a 12:1 assist-to-turnover ratio in his first professional game, it’s the manner in which he did it. Yes, he’s a rookie. No, he didn’t play like one. Carter-Williams was remarkably focused, playing with more certitude than anything you’d associate with the nervous tension of lacing your sneakers side-by-side with the best in the world. He was everywhere, oozing with immediacy and risk I hadn’t seen since Jeremy Lin said “screw it, if this is my last shot I’m taking everything opportunity I can get” and gave birth to Linsanity (note: he didn’t actually say that). Only Carter-Williams’ future is relatively stable, he’s just intrepid by choice.
• Sam Hinkie was famously quiet upon assuming the position of Sixers GM, but on the final day of the preseason hosted six team bloggers for an extended, on-the-record discussion. Liberty Ballers has a lengthy write-up that covers a lot of ground, including this riff from Hinkie on weighing process against results:
"What's your perspective? Loss avoidance? I want to not get upset in the first round. That's your goal? OK. You can probably do that. You can probably maximize that. If your goal is something else, then you might focus on something different," Hinkie said. "There's lots of randomness in everything we're doing, we just don't like to think about it that way."
"We can't control [the results]," Hinkie said. "I don't know any other benchmark [than evaluating process]."
"It would be like you sit down at a blackjack table and you say 'forget how you play, how many hands do you have to win to know you're doing what you should be doing? If you win seven hands, is that enough? Or do you have to win eight hands?" Hinkie said in a comparison. "And you say, 'Actually, all you should focus on is what we know will lead to winning hands in blackjack over time.'"
Hinkie also dropped this gem: "I almost picked up Joe Alexander the other day; just leak the rumor, just to see what [Liberty Ballers blogger] Michael Levin would do."
The theory that Bogut would command a salary larger than this after a season of healthy and productive play, and thus needed to be secured early, is a pessimistic one not sufficiently considerate of his injuries and declined production. Bogut, in his prime, wasn't worth the max, and the new Bogut definitely isn't. Nor is he especially close to it. Barring a resurgence he still hasn't demonstrated is possible, there is nothing to pay $12 million for.
The threat of Golden State being outbid for his services is further nullified given that most teams already have high-priced options or young players destined to be once their rookie scale deals run out at the position, and thus would not need him. Extensions are means of protecting both player and team from the volatility of the free market, but the Warriors seemed to have little to fear. Even without the incentives, what has Bogut done to command a guaranteed $12 million per season?
• It's dizzying target="_blank">just watching Hakeem Olajuwon go to work. It's hard to imagine what it must have been like for the poor souls who actually had to guard him. (via Chris Ballard)