This season, like most others in recent memory, has seen the NBA’s Eastern Conference lag far behind the Western Conference in terms of talent, success, and excitement. This year the discrepancy is particularly pronounced; the days of the championship-favorite Heat bolstering the East’s reputation are over, and there are only three teams in the entire league whose win total wouldn’t put them within four games of the last East playoff spot.
Basically, get five guys together, and as long as you don’t try to play Zach Lavine at point guard, you should have a fighting chance at a playoff berth. This, of course, is not satisfying. I’d confidently pick any of the six best Western teams to beat the East’s best team (the HAWKS, as of this writing; I’m not even making that up), but the East will inevitably send some team to the Finals because them’s the rules.
That’s why, in order to truly enjoy the East this year, you have to think outside of the box. God knows the basketball isn’t good, so maybe these teams are trying to express themselves in some other way that we’ve simply failed to notice until now. Here, I will show you this year’s teams to watch in a more profound sense.
Cleveland Cavaliers – Kevin Love’s Book of Job
If you’re rusty on your Biblical history, this is what happens to Job: God and Satan make a bet on whether the fortunate and wealthy Job will denounce God if he is subjected to a series of terrible events. God, who apparently just ruins people’s lives on a lark in dice games with Satan, takes away Job’s wealth and children and covers him in unsightly boils. According to scripture, Job keeps the faith, and all of his riches and children are restored to him. He lives long enough to see his great-great-grandchildren.
Kevin Love, similarly, is a man of great physical gifts, and possesses the work ethic to be among the league’s best players. What have the basketball gods done to repay Kevin Love, who has put his life into pleasing them? Not very much. After several years spent toiling on chronically crappy Wolves teams that couldn’t make the playoffs ever, even with him doing everything for them, Kevin perhaps thought that he had broken his streak of bad luck when he was traded to a Cavs team that became a strong championship favorite upon his arrival.
Well, not so much. Even at full strength, the Cavs have struggled to turn in the dominant performances that were expected of them, then injuries struck. Playing without his All-Star teammates Kyrie Irving and LeBron James, Love came out onto the floor for the opening tip two nights ago with Matthew Dellavedova, Joe Harris, Tristan Thompson, and Mike Miller as his supporting cast. They went on to lose that game to a 76ers team whose badness is very difficult to quantify using currently available technology. No word yet on whether Kevin Love has been infected with boils, but if he keeps plugging away, and if the Bible is any indication, I’m sure he’ll end up playing on a team with Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Air Bud, and the revived corpse of Prime Wilt Chamberlain, and they’ll win ten titles.
New York Knicks – An Homage to Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music
In 1975, Lou Reed, who was known for having made some good music in the preceding years, put out 64 minutes of electric guitar feedback under the title “Metal Machine Music,” to begrudgingly fulfill the terms of his record deal. It’s on YouTube, if you want to listen to it, but you don’t want to listen to it, because it sounds like a food processor. Now, 40 years hence, the New York Knicks have honored Reed’s rich tradition by enlisting a similarly feted genius of his field (Phil Jackson) to bring forth a product so execrable that Reed himself, from the grave, is probably like, “enough already, guys.” Despite having just signed Carmelo Anthony to a contract worth more than the GDP of some Pacific island chain countries, the Knicks are currently 5-32.
There is, however, some hope. Despite “Metal Machine Music” not really being “music” in the traditional sense, some people have said that it was an important event in the development of avant-garde “noise music.” Reed himself even went on a tour in 2010 with two other musicians to play improvisational music inspired by “Metal Machine Music,” and people bought tickets! The Knicks are not appreciated for their unique style of play today, but in a few years, perhaps they will be hailed as the progenitors of something new, something beyond the boundaries of what we thought the game was. Maybe losing is the new winning, maybe winning isn’t the most fulfilling goal you can have, maybe making intriguing noise is better than making mediocre music, like all of the losing teams fighting for a playoff spot in the East are doing.
Join me for Part II next week, when I will have decided which dystopian sci-fi novel the Charlotte Hornets are living in.