Friday, August 10, 2012

Dwight Howard, The Lakers, and Radiohead.

There's been a bit of a gap between posts here at Arena Apothecary.  I should be resuming business as usual with something enjoyable and inspirational about the Olympics.  I should be writing about Gabby Douglas or Usain Bolt or Andy Murray.  I should be showering the page with an account of watching on adjacent TVs yesterday while the women's water polo and soccer teams played sublime gold medal games for the USA.  But ... that's not going to happen.  Instead, I need to talk about Dwight Howard and the trade that gifted the Lakers with an ungodly windfall yesterday.  I won't waste time excoriating the Magic for muddling their way to an infuriatingly lopsided deal; plenty of other people will take care of that, and it's so glaringly obvious that it hardly bears stating, much less repeating.*  No, what I want to address is how this makes me feel about the Lakers' 2012-13 season.  And to do that, I need to talk about Radiohead.  I know, I know, but it will all make sense in a few paragraphs, just hang on a moment.

I don't like Radiohead.  I've said as much a million times, and it's always greeted with the same combination of perplexity and disgust from fellow musicians and music fans.  How is it, they wonder, that one of the most daring, intelligent, and groundbreaking groups of the past 20 years has earned the unadulterated scorn of someone who loves music this much?  It's not an easy question to answer.  Certainly, there is much to admire in the band's oeuvre.  Jonny Greenwood is a sonic architect and compositional genius nonpareil.  His brother Colin is a wonderful bassist, and Ed O'Brien is a pretty good guitar player.  Phil Selway, like Ringo Starr before him, goes largely unappreciated for his restrained genius and perfect craftsmanship behind the drums.  When I listen to the band, I digest all of these elements with a great deal of interest, taking in the extraordinary subtlety and detail of their musical interplay.  It's complex, fascinating stuff that I appreciate academically but from which I glean almost no actual enjoyment.  (And this is coming from a guy who digs serialism, abstract soundscapes, and free jazz.)  The sad thing is that, based on what I just wrote, I should adore Radiohead.  But I really, really don't.  And what wrecks the whole thing for me is Thom Yorke.

You can call him anything you want; genius, visionary, whatever.  To me, he's a grating, self-absorbed, pretentious megalomaniac whose considerable talents I would probably appreciate if he weren't such a monumental dick about the whole business.  That falsetto-singing, eyes-closed-swaying doofus is not some shamanic icon making transcendent art.  He's just annoying as f***.  Again, this is just my opinion, but Thom Yorke ruins Radiohead.

Which is why I'm going to hate this Lakers team, even more than I usually hate the Lakers.** 

After I got over the initial cringe-shock of the Steve Nash signing, I was actually incredibly excited to watch them.  There was the fascinating question of how Nash and Kobe Bryant would function as a backcourt.  There was the prospect of that pairing collectively saving enough of what each has left in the tank to make a last sustained run, possibly leading to a title or two.  The upshot of that, of course, would be renewed intrigue and debate over Kobe's place in the pantheon and (finally!!!) well-deserved rings for Nash, which should make you exuberant regardless of what uniform he's wearing when it happens.  And if your brain wasn't reverberant with giddiness at the thought of Nash and Pao Gasol wreaking absolute havoc on opposing defenses, then you just plain don't like basketball.  On the whole, there was a lot of joy to be mined here.

Then the Lakers went out and brokered a deal that divested them of a talented-headcase big man in Andrew Bynum for a much more talented headcase who happens to fit their needs perfectly.  That they miraculously retained Gasol in the bargain means that their starting five next season will include, barring something catastrophic happening, four future Hall Of Famers.  On paper, this is automatically the most fascinating and exciting team of 2012; just an absolute joy to watch.

The problem, of course, is that Dwight Howard just spent the last year and change doing his best Thom Yorke impersonation.  He has been, without a hint of shame or remorse, the most insufferably petulant and clueless sham of a human being in sports.  The unblinking ego and delusion were staggering.  The comparison was inevitably made, but Howard's actions were so far removed from The Decision that conflating the two makes zero sense.  When LeBron took his talents to South Beach, it was poorly executed, but at least it was honest.  This, on the other hand, was a deliberate series of head-fake shenanigans designed to, what?  Get Dwight out of Orlando while somehow blaming the whole thing on Otis Smith and Stan Van Gundy?  Maintain his heretofore unblemished image as a likeable guy in a bad situation?  Quick, look over there!  Pay no attention to the duplicitous idiot behind the curtain!  Good lord what a dope.

And now he's playing on the most loaded team in the western conference; a team perfectly calibrated to his strengths in a city that won't care a jot about his innate douchery because, you know, it's L.A. and they're used to embracing that sort of person.  The situation rankles in the rich-getting-richer way that these things do, but Mitch Kupchak played this one smart and you'd want your GM to do the same.  That the Lakers are the beneficiaries of a nearly exact case of historical repetition doesn't matter.  That Howard should benefit in any way from his behavior is downright abhorrent. 

The Lakers are going to play a lot of great basketball next season.  Steve Nash has just been handed an entire Christmas tree's worth of new toys, and he's going to use that team like Miles Davis used the Seven Steps to Heaven quintet.  Kobe will have an easier time on both ends of the floor, able to take  offensive possessions off while Nash does his thing and relax on defense knowing he has the Frontline of Doom backing him up.  Even Ron Artest, a pale shadow of himself, is going to get ample opportunities to use his one remaining viable NBA skill: standing wide open in the corner and knocking down threes.  Even if their bench is paper thin, they're one fluky Oklahoma City injury away from a legitimate shot at cracking 70 wins.  And Dwight Howard will be there, enjoying the ride, tossing up 23-15's, basking in the L.A. sunshine in the day and the Staples Center limelight at night.  It's enough to make a grown man weep with disgust.

Don't hate the game.  Hate the player.   

*As a Hawks fan, I was ecstatic when Danny Ferry waltzed into Atlanta and immediately performed the jaw-dropping voodoo of jettisoning Joe Johnson's contract.  We were glad to see him go for many reasons: he was openly derisive of fans and media, he had a penchant for way too much iso-ball, and there was no way we were getting out of the second round of the playoffs with him as our best player.  But you know what?  All the griping and invective leveled at him over that contract was horribly misplaced.  Say you're a car mechanic.  You excel at your job, but you're not quite qualified to work on Maybachs or act as a NASCAR crew chief.  Inexplicably, someone offers you $5,000,000 a year to keep servicing Fords and Hondas like you've always done.  You're not turning that down just because you're not actually actually worth the money.  Atlanta was dumb enough to give him the offer, and he took it.  You can't fault a man for that.  In the same way, no matter how unfair the Dwight-Lakers trade seems, you can't really be upset that they took the deal when it was offered.  The way I see it, this is Karma smacking David Stern in the mouth for "basketball reasons."

**I use "hate" loosely, obviously.  Non-L.A.-dwelling hoops fans hate the Lakers the same way baseball fans who don't live in New York hate the Yankees.  We resent their dominance and abhor their obnoxious fans, but generally we can objectively appreciate their performance on the field/court.

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