Is your basketball heart breaking? Are you fixated on the existential dilemmas of your franchise’s superstar? Well, just like sands through the hourglass, it’s another edition of N(ot) B(ad) A(dvice), where you lay your most pressing NBA-related problems at my feet and I take them, dust them off, give them a good talking to, and send them on their way, hopefully alleviated.
This week we have questions about the strange and sometimes gross valuation of pro athletes when it comes to their abilities and their paycheck, a front office gone AWOL, and what does it mean when a budding NBA star gets called out for being a little bit one-dimensional on the court. Settle in.
If you have NBA questions you want answered in the future, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The team I root for recently traded for Kelly Oubre, the most handsome man in the NBA, and a man who also immediately had to unfairly answer questions from reporters about if he was worth the $80m luxury tax bill acquiring him is costing the billionaire owners before he’d even played a game. He started the season by having the worst shooting slump in NBA history. Are these two things related?
Emotionally (and Luxury) Taxed Out In the San Francisco Bay Area
Certainly. You can’t believe in the absolute, scientifically proven phenomena of the revenge game and not accept its shittier other end of the spectrum.
All NBA players have to get very good really fast at creating a kind of personal filtration device for criticism. Some use it to improve, so they have to let a little in, but as we know there is a specifically insane subset of criticism that equates monetary value with athletic performance and it serves no competitive purpose to a player, it only continues to, like, regurgitatingly feed that aforementioned, twisted subset. Pro sports do a weird, evacuating thing to some people’s brains. The more a player gets paid, the more expectation there is on their physical capabilities. Can you imagine if someone promised you $500 more dollars an hour but only if you increased the vertical height that you could jump by five feet, and then you had to do it regularly? Or that you had to run faster than the speed you know yourself to be able to run, because that’s just how your body works. It’s always felt so strange to me to think it possible that money, no matter how much, was proof enough to hijack one’s body. And NBA players already do that! Their fitness regimens are precise, unyielding, and often do result in adjusting their bodies to better suit whatever it is they are trying to improve upon in any given season, often at the whims of league trends.
But back to Kelly Oubre.
Oubre is like, well just extremely pure and porous. He’s the volcanic rock in the aquifer as much as he is the crystalline water that results, simultaneously. He has an intensely dedicated fan base of anime freaks, misfits, basketball people, goths, and probably cowboys now based on that Valley Boys photoshoot the Suns did that he starred in just before they traded him. It’s a huge swath of people because I really think his appeal is in his openness — handsomeness factors in there somewhere too. All to say that kind of gross money talk is not exactly the first conversation he imagined having with a franchise he was very excited to join, and whatever is directed at him he has no choice but to absorb.
But in this way I’m sure, Oubre the aquifer will prevail. Looking at his season to season stats, his 3-point attempts per game currently sit at 5.6, a slight uptick from the last two seasons at 5.5 and 5.2. The percentage has dropped, sure, but I’m convinced it’s going to climb and I think it’s a buoying thing that his slump hasn’t deterred him from trying. Yes, the Warriors are gonna feel it when Oubre’s only scoring 12 points per game compared to his 18 last season, but the Warriors organization would also do well to keep its luxury tax talk out of Oubre’s forever open and inquisitive face.
Be the aquifer, Taxed Out, take it all in for what it’s worth — the experience, Oubre’s shooting slump, those piercing eyes! — and only spit the good stuff out.
I’ve had a lot of questions lately about the different levels of existential angst affecting the Raptors this season, both individually and as a team. The remaining one I have is where have Masai and Bobby been during all this? It’s not like them to be so silent. They were vocal and insistent about their decision to be with the team in the Bubble, right down to Bobby running the 416 Café, which I thought was really cool. Is he running one at the Marriott in Tampa? And why haven’t we heard from them, either in support of the team, or with their reactions and ideas about what needs to be done or to happen? And what’s happening with their own positions with the club? It’s a strange void that needs to be filled.
Tormented in T.O.
It’s a little weird, eh? Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster made a brief appearance at the Raptors first game against the Warriors a couple weeks back and that was kind of it. Like you’ve said, Tormented, the two were ever-present in the bubble, and I don’t think it was all to create more content for Toronto’s in-house online show, Open Gym, they were making a point. Now, was that point to signal to Raptors primo target, Giannis Antetokounmpo that the organization was a tight-knit one, worth making the move for? Maybe. It’s worth thinking that way to stay competitive in a league that loves its optics, still, I don’t believe it was all for show.
With the NBA’s new health and safety restrictions I wouldn’t be surprised if the league was trying to deter loitering of persons in and around the court pre or during games, but Ujiri has always found perches to lurk from when the team was going through past troubles. My best guess is that there is some real internal reworking going on, from the top-down to the current construction of the team. Things aren’t really working well, and from free agency to now the way crucial marks were missed might mean that Webster, and perhaps Ujiri, are also looking ahead beyond the team itself. Anyway, it isn’t time for full-on alarm bells yet because the two of them have always shown that the team comes first, whatever the tumult, so they could just be doing the heavy lifting behind the scenes for a change. But it is a weird season — with the assault allegations against Terence Davis, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol simultaneously walking, the unideal size and defensive deficit — to decide to go covert on a fanbase that is accustomed to more than the occasional public showing.
My question is pretty straightforward: what’s the best way to deal with the mental fallout of a situation like the one Trae is experiencing right now?
I’ve gone through periods where people who I thought had my back threw me under the bus and in the aftermath it lead to a lot of soul searching. I can’t help but see the same thing going on in Atlanta: Trae was criticized by his idol Steve Nash and also, allegedly, called out by his own teammates. Corellatedly, Trae’s on-court play and body language now seems… adrift.
So to boil it down: when life comes at you fast and you are left facing those existential questions how do you get your groove back?
You make a good point about soul searching, Mark, so I’m going to lead with that. Mostly that it’s not a bad thing to do, but I think it can get a bad rap because the times we often do it, we’re pressed into it by emotional, stressful, and occasionally upsetting occasions. And anything we interpret as being forced into, we resent.
But turning the mirror your own way is important. When you get into the habit of checking in and checking yourself a little more regularly, you can take stock of what’s going on around you. Are the people you rely on the right people, are they there when things aren’t the best? Would you want them to vouch for you as much as you’d trust them in calling you out? And with career concerns, are you taking the right steps, for you right now, and be honest, don’t coast where you could be adjusting and improving, harder now but better in the long run.
This is a little of what Trae Young is dealing with.
The guy is adept at getting to the line. At 9.7 free throw attempts per game he’s one of the best in the league at getting there. But players like Young, billed and earnestly self-identifying as stars, can’t rest on their laurels. Young’s frustration at Steve Nash criticizing him for doing that little bunny hop backward when he’s pulling up for a shot and drawing the foul by landing on the defender he knows is behind him strikes me as the kind of ire that comes when rightfully calling someone out. It’s visceral, personal, emotional for that person because they know, on some level, it’s warranted. It is also a little like, pot-kettle-black, Nash, because as an all-time point guard he had his own roster of sneaks to deploy, but whatever.
Young is now on his third year in the league, but he hasn’t yet landed on what the next iteration is for him and his game. He’s been in one system, knows pretty well the expectations and routines of it, but there’s a chance they’ve also catered pretty well to him, their number one guy. So, he’s going to have to push himself to figure out what comes next in his development. Does he want to become a better defender? Sure, but he’s not the biggest guy, but he is quick, so can he work on steals and positioning? His finishing at the basket can be finicky, but he’s a great passer for the most part so why not give a last second dish to psyche out defenders who consistently look to crowd him? Versatility, in whatever small ways he can find it, is going to be key for his next three to five years and is the kind of thing that helps at any slump in life.
There is a moment when Young gets called out, where he looks over to where Nash is shouting, “That’s not basketball,” at the ref that is pretty wrenching.
"That's not basketball" – Steve Nash
Trae Young was drawing cheap fouls and Steve Nash was tired of seeing it, not being able to do anything about it. Coach Nash had to have a word with this ref. Talk heavy coach. #WeGoHard – @Keith_McPherson pic.twitter.com/tMEbkSD6Ga
— Talkin’ Nets (@TalkinNets) December 31, 2020
It comes around the :22 second mark, when Young keeps glancing over to where Nash is, and his face visibly falters at being found out. It’s partially the look of “oh shit” and just “oh,” the former at being caught and the latter for the recognition that you don’t exist in the vacuum of your own life. Both offer lessons as much as lifelines to dragging yourself back from the whirlpool of existential dread, and it’s kind of Young’s choice at this point in how long he stays adrift.