Saturday, May 31, 2008


The 10k Pot Limit Hold Em kickoff to the WSOP did not go well for me. I was happy with the starting table but wasn't able to get much going. Cory Carroll and Shannon Shorr both busted pretty early on, and I failed to adjust and take control of the table like I could have. I had it in my head to play tight in this tournament as it was pot limit (no antes) and a brutally tough field. The situation came up where the table was ripe to be run over and I had a tight image, but I just kept folding instead of shifting to fourth gear where I should have been. A world-class player would have made this adjustment seamlessly but I failed to do so. Hopefully the rust will shake off soon and I'll find my A-game. I should be in action every day the next week.

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Best Music to Listen to While Driving Across the Desert

10.Ennio Morricone
9. Willie Nelson
8. Cake
7. Stone Temple Pilots
6. Silversun Pickups
5. Pink Floyd
4. Emmylou Harris
3. Queens of the Stone Age
2. Toadies
1. George Thorogood and the Destroyers

Monday, May 26, 2008

The 2008 World Series of Poker: Go For Launch

My time has come.

After graduating college in May 2005, I almost immediately left for six weeks in Las Vegas at the World Series of Poker. Longtime readers of this blog know that trip was a total and thorough disaster, resulting in zero cashes out of thirteen events played, cash game misery, psychological desolation, and the loss of two thirds of my bankroll. Although that trip was clearly catastrophic, I still credit it as a foundation for my subsequent career. Spending six weeks alone in Vegas siphoning off most of a bankroll my first month as a professional player put me on the ground floor. Nothing could ever be that bad again. After that was over, I didn’t know if I could make it as a poker player, but knew I could make it through some pretty rough times.

A year later, I came back to the World Series, once again for the full six weeks. This time I had a small crew of online colleagues along for the ride. We rented a house in Henderson. Everything about the ’06 WSOP was better than the year before. I cashed five times, though I did blow my one great chance at a big score. I made a lot of friends, had a great time, and even got back together with my ex-girlfriend. I finished in the black for the Series. And then my friend Paul got second in the main event, and I was written a check for $240,000 thanks to a pre-tournament percentage swap.

I staggered into the 2007 WSOP. Personally and professionally, I was a broken man. I thought I was retired from poker and was just there to play a few tournaments while trying to figure my life out. Lightning struck the first event I played as I was focused and lucky enough to get 4th place in the $1500 shootout for my biggest score ever (at the time). I only played five events last year but that score let me know that good things could happen in poker and in my life.

The 2008 World Series of Poker is the one I have been waiting for. Right now it feels like the check-off stage before launching a rocket into outer space. Top-notch tournament strategy? Go for launch. Hunger? Go. Live experience? That’s a go. Comfortable bankroll allowing me to play as many events as I want stress-free? Go. Pressure-packed final table experience? Go. Unrelenting competitive fire? Go. Skill in non no-limit hold em games? That’s a go. Rented house suitable for a summer of poker? Go. Positive attitude? Definitely a go. Healthy lifestyle? Supportive network of friends? All systems are go for launch.

On Wednesday I am driving to Las Vegas. For the first week of the WSOP, I’ll be staying at the Rio with the effervescent Napoleon Ta. Then it’s on to “The Castle of Pain”, or “The House of Pain II” or whatever we end up calling it. In any case, it’s a $3 million, ten bedroom, twelve bathroom, 8600 square foot “mini-castle” in South Las Vegas. We’ll have something like eleven professional poker players in there (ten boys and one girl), a revolving cast of wives, girlfriends, kids, friends, animals, degenerates, etc. Will it be crazy? Certainly. Out of control? Possibly. Stressful? Probably at times. I wouldn’t risk it if I hadn’t done it before – granted on a smaller scale – in ’06.

I am going to play almost every day at the World Series. Estimates right now are about thirty events and $100,000 in buyins. Yes, it is an intimidating undertaking. Most people I’ve discussed this with don’t think I will have the stamina for this heavy diet, and don’t think it’s in my best interest. The prevailing wisdom is that this sort of schedule, combined with six weeks in Vegas in the summer, is a sure-fire recipe for combustion.

I believe I am prepared for everything this entails. Mentally, I have been preparing since I was knocked out of the Shooting Star WPT in March. Psychologically, I am almost peerless. I can handle the worst of luck and the sickest of beats better than any player I know. I know bad things will inevitably happen during the Series, and I believe I can handle anything that happens at the tables. I know it is possible for the best players to have a losing WSOP. I am certain that the only way I can lose this summer is if I am extremely unlucky. Everything else has been accounted for.

I have the skills. I know how well I am playing right now. You would think I would have lost some confidence after a miserable FTOPS – in which I was able to build three monster stacks but made only two insignificant cashes – but it’s just the opposite. I know how unfortunate I was. I also know that I made many mistakes, and I have developed a belief that if I make a mistake in a tournament, no matter how small, I don’t deserve to win that tournament. This summer I believe I am ready to take that next step to perfection.

Most importantly, I have the desire. Probably due to a dearth of significant activity in other areas of my life the last few months, I have been obsessing over the glorious possibilities this summer of poker holds for me. Almost every night I fall asleep thinking about the World Series. I dream about its possibilities.

My time has come.


Now on to the over/under predictions:

# of events I play: 29
# of cashes I make: 4.5
# of final tables I make: 1.5
# of final tables for the house: 3
# of bracelets for the house: 1
# of bad beat stories told in the house: 58
% of bad beat stories told by PiMaster: 62
# of Blokus games played by the house: 44
% of Blokus games won by the Gambler: 39
# of times the Allen Iverson “practice” clip is played in the house: 32
# of full-size sushi boats the house goes through at the Orleans sushi place: 3.5
# of crappy meals served 45 minutes after being ordered at that coffee shop on the way to the Rio convention center/WSOP area: 8
# of major management snafus at the WSOP: 5
# of players in the main event: 7250

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Black Mamba

Son of a former NBA player, Philadelphia high school basketball legend Kobe Bryant became the first guard to be drafted by an NBA team straight out of high school in 1996. Before the 1996 draft, Kobe made it clear that he would play for no one but the Los Angeles Lakers. After the Charlotte Hornets drafted him with the 13th pick, Bryant held out and refused to sign a contract or play for the Hornets. Eventually, L.A. general manager Jerry West traded Vlade Divac to the Hornets for the rights to Bryant.

The Lakers also acquired Shaquille O’Neal before that season, and the foundation for a dominant NBA franchise was laid in place. The pair really began clicking after the arrival of mastermind coach Phil Jackson in 1999, and the Lakers won three consecutive championships in 2000, 2001, and 2002. Despite this success, a growing feud developed between the two superstars, culminating in a 2003 ESPN interview in which Bryant called Shaq “fat”, “out of shape”, “unprofessional”, and an injury exaggerator. Kobe also blamed O’Neal for publicly lobbying for a contract extension, only taking credit for wins and not responsibility for losses, and said Shaq had threatened not to play his hardest unless he was passed the ball more often.

In the summer of 2003, Bryant was arrested in connection with a sexual assault charge filed by 19 year-old Eagle, Colorado hotel employee Katelyn Faber. Bryant admitted to a sexual encounter with Faber, but stated that it was consensual. A year later, the case was dropped after Faber refused to testify. Bryant’s public mea culpa stated “Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did.” Those focusing on the criminal degree of Bryant’s actions are missing the point entirely – the man had been married for two years, had a six-month old daughter and had sex with a girl he just met at a hotel in Colorado. I mean who does this? What kind of a man fucks random girls he meets at hotels while his wife and six-month old daughter are at home? Kobe apologized for this sin by buying his wife a $4.3 million diamond ring and the world’s first automatic Lamborghini.

After the Lakers were defeated by the Detroit Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals, the team did not renew coach Jackson’s contract. Speculation was that Kobe’s dissatisfaction with Jackson was the reason for the coaching change. Kobe had constantly had difficulties with his coach, despite the fact that Jackson is considered to be one of the best at dealing with the NBA’s combustible personalities, and his overwhelmingly outstanding results. At one point Jackson had told Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak “I won’t coach this team next year if [Bryant] is still here. He won’t listen to anyone. I’ve had it with this kid.” Jackson also referred to Bryant as “uncoachable” in one of his books and noted that Kobe had grown unwilling to accept playing with Shaq anymore as he was “tired of being a sidekick.”

Upon hearing of Jackson’s exit, O’Neal (who wasn’t consulted on the coaching situation) stated his belief that the Lakers front office was making decisions to placate Bryant and asked to be traded. That same summer, Kobe, who was due for free agency, strung the Lakers along by discussing a potential move to the Los Angeles Clippers. It was never known if Kobe’s Clipper flirtations were as serious as his flirtations with Katelyn Faber, or merely a ploy to make the Lakers give him full attention. In any case, the Lakers decided to trade Shaq to Miami and sign Kobe to a new long-term contract. So instead of mining three more championship-caliber years or so out of the Kobe/Shaq/Jackson triumvirate, the Lakers wound up with Kobe and a collection of disgruntled weaklings. Shaq’s impact on Miami was immediate, as the Heat narrowly missed the NBA Finals his first season there and won the championship in his second. Meanwhile, Kobe’s legendary ballhogging reached new heights that season; though he finished second in the league in scoring, his shooting percentage was lower than it had been since ’97-’98, and the Lakers missed the playoffs for the first time in over a decade, going through two coaches in the process.

Jackson returned to coach the Lakers in 2005, and the Lakers put together two garden-variety seasons both ending in first round playoff losses to the Phoenix Suns. Last summer, talk swirled surrounding Bryant’s discontentment with the Lakers, particularly after he expressed a desire to be traded. I’m not sure exactly why Bryant wanted to be traded – the Lakers had coddled to his every need, forgiven his every sin, and put together a young, potent, and competitive team. The team turned out to be good enough to compete for the West’s best record, and solidified that status as the best team in the West after acquiring Pau Gasol in a midseason trade with the Memphis Grizzlies. Now the Lakers are in the Western Conference Finals and are the favorite to win the NBA Championship once again.

I think I’ve given enough reasons here why you should root against Kobe, but if you feel otherwise, just watch a Laker game. Although Kobe won the MVP award for this season and should probably be considered the league’s best player, he is the most naturally dislikable superstar athlete in the world. His play is fantastic and has grown stunningly unselfish, yet you can still see the disdain Kobe feels for others in his face. You can see the sense of entitlement he has. You can tell his laughter is not genuine. You can practically see conceit dripping along with the sweat off his brow. This is a malevolent, odious man. I will never be able to appreciate the Lakers or any team Kobe plays for. He is the villain of the NBA, like the New York Yankees wrapped up into one player.

The San Antonio Spurs may be old, and boring, but Tony Parker has never been accused of rape or caught committing adultery. Tim Duncan has never asked to be traded, and Manu Ginobili hasn’t demanded the Spurs move Duncan because he is “tired of being a sidekick.” Although next to no one wants to see another Spurs appearance in the Finals, the thought of Kobe Bryant hoisting a fourth NBA Championship trophy is even more revolting.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Awards From the Second Round of the NBA Playoffs

MVP: Chris Paul, New Orleans

LVP: Jordan Farmar, Los Angeles

6th Man: Jason Maxiell, Detroit

Most Overrated Player: Ray Allen, Boston

Most Underrated Player: James Posey, Boston

Best Crowd: Utah

Worst Crowd: Los Angeles

Best Coach: Gregg Popovich, San Antonio

Worst Coach: Mike Brown, Cleveland

Best Sasha: Sasha Vujacic, Los Angeles

Worst Sasha: Sasha Pavlovic, Cleveland

Most Villainous Quartet: Kobe Bryant, Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar, Ronny Turiaf, Los Angeles

On Fire:
Derek Fisher, Los Angeles
Tayshaun Prince, Detroit
Joe Smith, Cleveland

Ice Cold:
Ray Allen, Boston
Wally Sczcerbiak, Cleveland
Carlos Boozer, Utah
Matt Harpring, Utah
Peja Stojakovic, New Orleans

Sam Cassell, Boston
Ben Wallace, Cleveland
Walter Herrmann, Detroit
Marcin Gortat, Orlando
Brent Barry, San Antonio

Predictions for the Conference Finals:
over Boston in 6
Los Angeles over San Antonio in 5

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Boys To Men

My friend Brooks likes to go to concerts. He’s always trying to get the rest of us to go with him to some jam band festival, or techno/drum and bass show, or bluegrass concert. Occasionally I cave, and we usually have a lot of fun (except for that pathetic Medeski, Martin and Wood concert at CU a couple weeks ago). Eventually, possibly this year, I will finally give in and go to one of those three-day summertime jam band festivals that Brooks lives for.

Along with skiing, brewing beer, and playing Frisbee golf, Brooks really likes to play Settlers of Catan. I’ve played this game more than poker the last couple months. Brooks isn’t necessarily a “gamer” like me and Paul, but like us, he can’t get enough Catan. He’s actually the best I know at the game. Strategically Paul and I are right there with him, maybe even ahead, but Brooks is incredibly deft at manipulating the social aspects of the game. He knows how far people are willing to go. He knows who can be pushed and how. And he doesn’t alienate other people, like Paul and I have been known to. He keeps it friendly, then uses those good vibes to get what he wants and dominate the game.

One night a couple weeks ago we were wrapping up a game of Catan around 2:30 AM when Brooks got a phone call from his mom. His father Tom had passed away after a long battle against blood cancer. In the general scheme of things, Tom’s death was not a shock. But it was on that particular day.

A week ago his family had an open house for all of Tom’s friends. The place was packed with dozens of people I’d never met. Brooks confessed to me that he’d never met many of them either, and half of them he hadn’t seen in five years. But he kept hopping around, shaking hands, telling stories, sharing hugs. Usually with a sparkle in his smile and a light in his eyes.

Since Tom’s death, Brooks has taken care of business. He’s been the one to get all the shit done that needs to get done when something like this happens.

Brooks is the oldest of the two Lustig brothers. The younger one, Reid, has been one of my best friends since he introduced me to the game of poker eight years ago. Reid is one of my all-time favorite humans, but he’s not all the way grown up. It has been obvious to me the last two weeks – and normally it is anything but obvious as we are playing Catan and Frisbee golf and going to concerts – that Brooks is now all the way grown up.

The world lost a good man when Tom Lustig died. But it got a good one, too.

Monday, May 12, 2008

2008 POY Pool Update


JC Tran 777
Alexander Kravchenko 0
Tom Dwan 1650
David Singer 174
Cory Carroll 1440
Alex Jacob 0
Chad Brown 0
Steve Billirakis 72
Nick Schulman 0
Shane Schleger 0
Alex Bolotin 480
Haralabos Voulgaris 0
Eugene Katchalov 0
Marco Johnson 0

Total: 4593
Analysis: This might actually be the most talented collection of players, but very few of these guys log the hours necessary to compete for Player of the Year. All should be at the WSOP though, so there is some slight hope.


David Pham 1390
Danny Wong 519
Robert Mizrachi 144
Scotty Nguyen 104
Anna Wroblewski 249
Jared Hamby 120
Eugene Todd 90
Randy Holland 876
Matt Brady 1266
Scott Fischman 0
Kevin Song 216
Jimmy Fricke 160
Alex Kamberis 42
Kido Pham 0

Total: 5176
Analysis: This is a solid team. They're just not producing. Be patient, Pi.


Bill Edler 0
Scott Clements 528
Kevin Saul 0
Ryan Daut 0
Travis Rice 0
Ted Lawson 896
Kirk Morrison 0
David Baker 1304
Roy Winston 1218
David Fox 40
Mike Matusow 54
JC Alvarado 432
Dutch Boyd 836
Roland De Wolfe 0

Total: 5308
Analysis: Shrewd mid-late round picks are keeping the Master (barely) alive. He'll need a lot more from his drafted-too-high young guns.


James Van Alstyne 0
Michael Mizrachi 924
Jonathan Little 0
David Daneshgar 0
Theo Tran 456
CK Hua 0
John Cernuto 376
Gus Hansen 2400
Chris McCormack 0
Tony Ma 72
Nick Binger 622
David Levi 400
Alan Myerson 236
Steve Wong 0

Total: 5486
Analysis: Critical members of this team have completely vanished; Gus Hansen is currently responsible for almost half the team's points. This team is in a world of hurt.


Gioi Luong 84
John Phan 877
Joe Sebok 0
Allen Cunningham 1584
Darrell Dicken 1068
Gavin Smith 240
Joe Cappello 1216
Joe Tehan 256
Chris Bjorin 748
Matthew Casterella 240
James Mackey 976
Matt Graham 294
Jeff Madsen 0
John Racener 732

Total: 8315
Analysis: Considering this team has gotten nothing in 10k+ events and nothing from first round pick Gioi Luong, they're in relatively good shape.


Justin Bonomo 1088
Daniel Negreanu 0
Erik Cajelais 0
Barry Greenstein 78
Steve Sung 1900
Erick Lindgren 939
Sorel Mizzi 0
Phil Hellmuth 800
Lance Allred 460
Thomas Fuller 192
Jason Stern 646
Joe Hachem 177
Phil Ivey 2610
Chris Reslock 556

Total: 9446
Analysis: Considering this team is geared for the WSOP, Bag is in great shape.


Nam Le 1515
John Hoang 0
Men Nguyen 2798
Michael Binger 3040
Hevad Khan 696
Humberto Brenes 0
Nenad Medic 0
Max Pescatori 564
Francois Safieddine 45
Bertrand Grosspellier 140
Tom Schneider 144
Marcel Luske 60
Gavin Griffin 2400
Annette Obrestad 0

Total: 11,402
Analysis: I believe this team has been more lucky than good thus far. Wolf made some great picks that are really paying off but too many useless horses will eventually doom the current frontrunner.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Nice Story

Usually these "human interest" stories don't do much for me, but I thought this one was pretty cool.

Friday, May 09, 2008

"Playoff Experience"

I'm sick of hearing analysts talk about the importance of "playoff experience." Why exactly is it so important to have experience playing games in the playoffs? How does this really make you a better basketball player?

Everything I have seen in this playoffs and in my life suggests this "playoff experience" theory is complete hogwash. Did "playoff experience" help the Dallas Mavericks last year? This year? Both years they lost in the first round to a team with virtually no playoff experience. How about the Denver Nuggets - they've made the playoffs five straight years but this experience hasn't once helped them win a series. Tracy McGrady has a lot of playoff experience too, but his teams have never won a series.

Playoff experience didn't help the New England Patriots beat a less experienced New York Giants team in the Super Bowl. It didn't prevent them from blowing a huge lead to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship the year before.

The Sacramento Kings rolled up tons of "playoff experience", but it never got them to the NBA Finals. It didn't stop them from prodigious choking in their biggest playoff games.

Someone please show me the statistical evidence that "playoff experience" means something.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Awards From the First Round of the NBA Playoffs

Now that we've finally cut the field in half, here are some awards from round one:

Most Valuable Player: Dwight Howard, Orlando

Least Valuable Player: Jerry Stackhouse, Dallas

Best Defender: Bruce Bowen, San Antonio

6th Man: J.R. Smith, Denver

Most Overrated Player: Jason Kidd, Dallas

Most Underrated Player: Jose Calderon, Toronto

Best Crowd: Atlanta

Worst Crowd: Los Angeles

Best Coach: Gregg Popovich, San Antonio

Worst Coach: Doc Rivers, Boston

Best Villain: Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles

Best Series: Jazz/Rockets

Worst Series: Magic/Raptors

Best Broadcasting Team: Kevin Harlan and Doug Collins, TNT

Guys I Will Miss Watching:
Carl Landry, Houston
Reggie Evans, Philadelphia
Joe Johnson, Atlanta
Brandon Bass, Dallas
Tracy McGrady, Houston

Tyson Chandler, New Orleans
Mehmet Okur, Utah
Ronnie Brewer, Utah
David West, New Orleans
Carl Landry, Houston
Tayshaun Prince, Detroit
Hedo Turkoglu, Orlando

Ray Allen, Boston
Andre Iguodola, Philadelphia
Jerry Stackhouse, Dallas
Robert Horry, San Antonio
Michael Finley, San Antonio
Kenyon Martin, Denver

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Old Farts

Most basketball fans were surprised how quickly the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks were eliminated from the playoffs. Both teams lost 4-1 in the first round. Although they were the 6th and 7th seeds in the Western Conference, they were viewed as contenders for the championship. They have been two of the top teams in the NBA the last three years, and their personnel appear to be as strong as ever. Unfortunately, this just isn’t the case. Critical players on both teams have lost much of their effectiveness due to old age.

The sudden decline of these franchises is especially sad when one considers their recent history. Phoenix’s recent upswing begain in 2004 with the arrival of point guard Steve Nash and coach Mike D’Antoni. They initiated a storybook turnaround from out of the playoffs to the best record in the NBA at 62-20. That ‘04-‘05 season ended with a frustrating Western Conference Finals loss to the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs, with the Suns missing the services of star Joe Johnson for the first two games. Young power forward Amare Stoudemire averaged a ridiculous 37 points per game in the series, but the Spurs shut down Nash and the other Phoenix shooters. This would become a recurring postseason nightmare for the Suns.

Johnson wanted more star power and demanded a trade after that season. The Suns were able to get relatively good value (Boris Diaw and two first rounders) for him in a deal with Atlanta, but lost Stoudemire to microfracture knee surgery for the season. That ’05-’06 season, Nash led the Suns to a surprising 54-28 record and collected his second straight MVP award. The Suns enjoyed a thrilling ride in the ’06 playoffs before finally succumbing to the loaded Dallas Mavericks (more on them in a second) in the Western Conference Finals.

Last year Phoenix got Stoudemire back and had another sterling season before losing tragically to the Spurs (again the eventual champs) in an epic second round playoff series. It was clear the Suns were as good or better than the Spurs, but bad luck in close games, injuries, and a wild Robert Horry-instigated incident that led to the suspensions of Stoudemire and Diaw cost them the series and very likely the NBA title.

With the residue of that brutal loss to the Spurs lingering in the desert air like a stale fart, new GM Steve Kerr and the Suns made a controversial trade for Shaquille O’Neal on February 6, 2008. The Suns traded four-time all-star Shawn Marion, their most versatile player and best defender, along with Marcus Banks (salary cap sewage) for Shaq. From the start, the trade was questioned. The Suns got Shaq, a four-time champ and arguably the most dominant player in the NBA over the past fifteen years. But they gave up Marion, and with him gave up their identity. Shaq is the heaviest player in the league, and one of the slowest. The frenetic, high-scoring, new-school system Nash and D’Antoni introduced to Phoenix in 2004 was forever lost when they acquired Shaq. They would now switch to a more standard half-court game. It was a bold trade. It now appears to be one of the worst trades in NBA history.

Shaq is too old. The Big Aristotle is now 36 years of age. He hardly jumps anymore. Against the Spurs, he lost critical rebounds to the likes of Fabricio Oberto and Kurt Thomas. He doesn’t make those court-quaking and-one dunks anymore. More often when he gets fouled down low (he still gets fouled most of the time he gets the ball deep) he lays the ball off the glass, misses, then misses both free throws. He made 32 of 64 free throws in the Spurs series – not far off from his career average of 52%, but made only 22 of 50 field goals (44%), way below his career average of 58%. And that doesn’t include all the missed layups he got fouled on. This season, Shaq’s minutes, points, free throw shooting, rebounding, steals, assists, and blocks all declined (assists and blocks were way down), while his turnovers and fouls actually increased despite playing less. The numbers don’t even tell the whole story though. Simply watching the Diesel play a few minutes is enough to tell he’s way over the hill. Stick a fork in the Big Shaqtus. He’s done.

Ultimately the blame falls hard on Kerr, D’Antoni, and Nash. All signed off on the deal, and all now find themselves staring down the barrel of a career-ending gun. This was a franchise-killing trade, and it could have been prevented with just a little reconnaissance. Shaq’s enfeeblement is that obvious.

The sad part for the Suns is this series was winnable, even with Shaq’s corpse. They should have won game one in San Antonio as well as the train wreck that was game 5. Shaq was absolutely horrendous in season-ending game 5. Phoenix would have been better off giving all his minutes to Brian Skinner. These games were there for the taking. In the past, the Suns have gotten beat by really good teams. This Spurs squad was ripe for the picking. But Steve Nash, who is now 34, played very mediocre basketball. In fact, Nash played the worst game I have ever seen him play in game 5. He had a good season, but he seemed to get worse in every successive game of the playoffs. By game 5, he was missing wide open shots and layups like he was Jason Kidd…

The Spurs have cadavers too. At this point, Brent Barry, Robert Horry, and Jacque Vaughn are worthless, and Michael Finley’s value is dropping like the American dollar. Ultimately I believe this will cost them the title. The Big Three may have been enough to get by the Suns, but they will need more help to advance past the better teams they will be facing.

The crash and burn of the Dallas Mavericks has been a little less fiery and will be a little less permanent, but is equally depressing. Two years ago the Mavs led the Miami Heat 2-0 in the NBA Finals and had a big lead in game three. Winning the championship was just a formality; the chances of winning it all were probably at least 90% at one point in that third game.

Then the wheels came flying off. Behind a superhuman performance from Dwyane Wade, a still-effective Shaquille O’Neal, clutch choking from a few key performers, bad luck, and the worst major-sport officiating of the last twenty years, the Heat won that game three and the next three to win the NBA Championship.

Dallas appeared to recover the next season, going 67-15 (6th best all-time) and gaining the West’s #1 seed. But they were shockingly ousted by the 8th-seeded Golden State Warriors in the first round.

This season, the Mavs found themselves back in the pack of Western Conference contenders. Seeking a magical potion that would put them back at the top of the Conference, the Mavs traded Devin Harris (a nice young guard), DeSagana Diop (a defensive specialist), Maurice Ager (a low value young guard), Keith Van Horn (who was retired), Trenton Hassell (another defensive specialist), 3 million dollars, and first round draft picks in 2008 and 2010 for 35 year-old point guard Jason Kidd, Malik Allen (useless) and Antoine Wright (more useless). Essentially they lost Harris, who figures to have eight to ten decent seasons, Diop (who has shown steady improvement, is still only 25, and was already an important contributor), the cash, and the picks (which figure to be fairly low cause the Mavs generally have a good record) in exchange for Kidd, a future Hall of Fame point guard with the following all-time NBA rankings:

  • 3rd in triple doubles
  • 4th in rebounds by a guard
  • 5th in assists per game
  • 5th in assists
  • 11th in steals
  • 11th in 3-pointers made

For a team with the assets of the Mavericks and the deep pockets of owner Mark Cuban, trading away several non-superstars for a superstar is not an unreasonable move. You can only play five guys at a time in basketball. Having a lot of decent players gets you nowhere. It’s all about having the very best players.

One problem – Jason Kidd isn’t one of the best players anymore. There are at least six point guards in the NBA who are significantly better right now. He’s a very poor shooter (33% lifetime threes, 38% this season on always wide-open looks, 38% overall shooting). He’s not as fast as he used to be. He gets burned on defense and misses layups. He still gets a ton of rebounds and might be the best passer alive, but his decreased speed means he’s not creating as many opportunities. Teams know he can’t shoot so they play off him. His impact in the first-round loss to the Hornets was moderate – 8.6 pts on 42% shooting, 6.8 assists, 6.4 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and 1.8 turnovers in 36 minutes a game. Compare those numbers to last season’s when Kidd averaged a triple-double over the span of twelve playoff games. Or compare them to the numbers of Chris Paul, the man on the other side of the ball in this series. Paul averaged 24.6 points, 50% shooting, 12 assists, 5.6 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1.2 turnovers in 40 minutes a game. It’s pretty easy to see where Dallas lost this series.

Jason Kidd will be 36 before the end of next season. He’s under contract to make $20 million (the maximum) next year. Shaquille O’Neal will be 37. He’s on tap for two more years at $20 million per. The deterioration of Kidd’s skills is less obvious than that of Shaquille O’Neal’s, but still readily apparent. It’s mind-boggling that NBA executives – men paid to assess basketball talent and use those assessments to make decisions to improve their teams – couldn’t see this decay. A couple hours on the couch should have been enough to dissuade them from mortgaging away the future of their franchises for quick-fix players who didn’t even make them better in the present.