If you try to link arms with me during the national anthem at the next sporting event as a show of unity, I’m slapping the shit out of you.
If you try to link arms with me during the national anthem at the next sporting event as a show of unity, I’m slapping the shit out of you.
It’s finally here. South America’s two-year internecine war will be wrapped up one way or another tonight. Two teams will join Brazil and Uruguay in heading to the World Cup Finals in Russia next summer, and another will keep its dream alive via a playoff against some nerds from New Zealand. The matches played tonight are the final act of a grueling 18-match round-robin in the world’s toughest qualifying competition.
The beautiful problem we have tonight is that there are five teams within two points of each other fighting over those three open spots. I implore you to watch the matches, as the shitshow is sure to be a firecracker of a time. Follow the best drama in sports, where teams vie with longtime rivals over the chance to reach football’s biggest stage. The legacies of all-time great players could be upended to make way for the euphoria of overdue underdogs. Entire nations’ hopes become a litter of Schrödinger’s felines, hanging in the balance as goals scored thousands of miles away could be manna from heaven or the release of the guillotine.
Let’s recap how CONMEBOL got into this mess. A continent known for exporting high-grade stimulants delivered a sweet bundle in Thursday’s matches. Instead of giving interested viewers the Bobby Brown jaw, these matches were more like nitroglycerin. They were relatively stable, following a predictable path, and then all fucking hell broke loose. Here was the table going into Thursday night (again, note the top four teams automatically go to Russia, and the fifth goes to a two-legged playoff against New Zealand).
Brazil played in Bolivia while Uruguay and Venezuela met up in the early, non-consequential matches. Colombia hosted Paraguay, Peru visited Argentina and Chile let Ecuador come through. All of the teams involved in those matches still had something to play for. As such, all three matches started at 6:30 p.m. to ensure fairness among the squads.
The Argentina and Peru match was a rough and exciting 0-0 draw. Peru hung on by a thread as Argentina sent wave after wave of attacks. Leo Messi did his godmode shit, picking up the ball deep and skirting past multiple defenders like they were sedated children. It took lucky bounces, some quality last-ditch defending, high-level goalkeeping from Pedro Gallese and some shit finishing from Argentina to keep the score even. Peru created a few of their own chances, but they were far fewer than the Albiceletes’, and los Incas were surely glad to escape with a point.
In the other matches, however, shit started popping off late. In a span of 13 minutes, a barrage of goals across the other two matches turned the CONMEBOL table into a roller coaster where seat belts were merely suggested for insurance reasons. Teams went from entirely eliminated to having all the hope in the world, while others went from surely heading to Russia to fighting for their lives. It’s the way of life in South American football, where there is certainly a hierarchy, but the ridiculous altitudes, tough-ass tackles, animosity and overall technique mean any team on its day can give better opposition hell and even bust that ass.
At about 8:04 p.m. (not including extra time from the first half), here was what the table looked like. Chile was up on Ecuador on a 1-0 goal from the first half, while Colombia had finally broken through against Paraguay with a Radamel Falcao goal in the 79′. Colombia and their fans were celebrating officially punching their ticket to the Russia, while Paraguay and Ecuador were on the outs. While there was still one match to go, the table left two-time world champion and historically great side Argentina on the outside looking in, losing out on goal difference to Peru.
Five minutes later, things took a turn. Ecuador kept on attacking and struck back, tying Chile 1-1 via a Romario Ibarra strike.
Ibarra’s goal changed the table’s complexion considerably. Suddenly, Chile were on the outs while Peru and Argentina had a little more wiggle room going into the final matchday. Ecuador was still technically eliminated at this moment, but the swashbuckling side suddenly had new hope and could really be In This Shit with a game-winning goal in the final five minutes and extra time of the match.
Oh, Ecuador. Oh, you sweet, beautiful idiots. What makes Ecudaor, bless their hearts, so wonderful is that they fucking love attacking and will hit teams on the counter at a blinding pace down the touchlines before finding a teammate streaking into the box for a cutback. The play leads to a lot of mouth-watering chances and high-intensity football. However, the team doesn’t just sell you half the horse, dear reader. Ecuador also makes note to forego things like defensive priorities, organization or making the simple, ugly play, giving their opponents their own opportunities to see the goal. Well, yeah.
About a minute and a half after getting resuscitated on the operating table, Ecuador choked while trying to eat a mustard packet whole. Alexis Sanchez’s clean-up goal meant Chile was back in fourth place with cushion on Peru and Argentina while Paraguay and Ecuador were both donezo.
But wait! There’s more! Four minutes later, Paraguay saw the writing on the wall and figured, “Eh, our summer’s still open anyways, we might as well give this Russia thing a try.” Oscar Cardozo scored in the 89′ to tie the match with Colombia. Suddenly Colombia was a lot closer to the rest of the lot while Paraguay was within striking distance of the play-off spot, although they’d be hard-pressed to make up the goal differential deficit in one match.
Scared money don’t make money, and Paraguay had some guaraní sin miedo. After withstanding a barrage of Colombian misses on golden opportunities to win, Antonio Sanabria cleaned up a David Ospina spill to take the lead in added time. With that and the other matches ending, this is what the table looked like at 8:17 p.m., as it does entering the final matchday:
Colombia went from surefire qualifiers to fourth place, with only a tiny margin for error heading into tonight. In the amount of time it takes to make at least a respectable sandwich, Paraguay went from also-rans to serious threats to unseat one of the most renowned sides in the world.
Let’s take a moment to highlight just what’s at stake for each of the teams here:
Chile – The chance to continue to build on its current run of success, including winning back-to-back Copa America titles in 2015 and 2016, knockout round appearances in each of the last two World Cups and an appearance in the Confederations Cup final this past summer. It could also be the last chance to chase World Cup glory with world-class players like Arturo Vidal (age 30) and Alexis Sanchez (28).
Colombia – The chance to build on a quarterfinals appearance at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil while also not falling below expectations related to the nation’s Golden Generation.
Peru – Oh, just the chance to bring a football-starved nation its first World Cup appearance since 1982, when the nation’s GOAT Teofilo Cubillas and leader of Peru’s own Golden Generation hung up his boots. It’s the longest drought outside of Venezuela, who have never qualified. The current Peruvians aren’t downplaying the weight of the moment.
Argentina – Nothing serious. Just that Argentine fans have been clamoring for a third title since Maradona’s ’86 masterpiece, and failing to qualify would be the first time they miss the World Cup since 1970. They also have the greatest player to ever kick a ball in their squad and could blow the – probably – last chance Lionel Andres Messi, El Dios de Rosario, La Unica Fuerza que Mueve El Cielo con su Pie, is at or near his prime for a World Cup run. Having lost three finals (one World Cup, two Copa Americas) over the last three years, Argentina are hankering for a trophy.
Paraguay – A chance to get back to the World Cup after missing in 2014, their first absence since 1994. If Paraguay plays their cards right, they could even get their retired players to stop talking shit about them.
Here’s tonight’s matches and each team’s situations heading into them:
Chile at Brazil – Chile head into São Paulo to face the second-best team in the world who’ve dominated this qualification cycle. I had my concerns about Brazil rolling out a pup squad to experiment and avoid injury, but the team seems to be going for it. The team fielded its stars, including Mr. Quarter Billi Neymar himself, in their 0-0 draw in Bolivia on Thursday. For my own selfish interests, I hope Brazil give their fans one last great show in qualifications and field their strongest team. For Chile, a draw would all but get them into at least the playoff. The 27 points would mean only one of Colombia or Peru could leapfrog them as well as Argentina were they to win. Paraguay could tie them with 27 points, but in all likelihood couldn’t make up the 7-goal differential. If Chile lose, it gets a shitload hairier for them, as all four teams could very easily jump them, if Peru and Colombia were to tie and they were to lose by more than one goal.
Colombia at Peru – Peru welcome Colombia at Estadio Nacional de Lima for what looks like a win-and-you’re-in matchup. Had Colombia won on Thursday, they would have been safely qualified, which could have been a boon for my beloved Incas. However, now they could find themselves on the outs if they don’t play their shit right. Their one-point cushion over Peru and Argentina is critical here, as it means a tie will also just about see them make at least the playoff. A draw keeps Peru one point behind while only Argentina could pass them. Paraguay could again match them with 27, but, again, goal differential.
For Peru, the task became more complicated with Paraguay’s Thursday heroics. That put them well within striking distance, and with a matchup against bottom-of-the-table Venezuela, they have a great chance to win and get to 27 points. Had they lost to Colombia, they would only have had to worry about Argentina leapfrogging them. Now they have two teams behind them, both with very winnable matches, to concern them. If they draw and those two win, Peru would be in 6th place at best. Here’s the scenario where Peru survives with a draw: Chile loses by 2+ goals and either Argentina or Paraguay lose or tie. In that case, the worst-case scenario is the 5th spot and playoff.
Peru can’t afford to play for a tie with such uncertainty, so here’s a simpler plan: go get a win against the world’s 10th-ranked team in front of your euphoric home fans in the biggest match of your lives. It won’t be easy, but it’s doable, and it would clear a lot of shit up. Peru would have 28 points and leave Colombia behind with 26 while also being out of reach for Paraguay. The worst it could end up in is 5th place, were Chile to win and Argentina to beat Ecuador more soundly than Peru over Colombia to go ahead on goal differential. In the best case, Argentina draw or lose while Chile loses, bumping Peru up to third in the continent and booking its trip to Russia. Never a doubt.
Argentina at Ecuador – Ecuador are officially eliminated, so Argentina might be facing a team sapped of morale after Thursday’s heartbreaker. They lost to Ecuador 2-0 in Buenos Aires in Matchday 1 of this cycle, and those swashbuckling Ecuadorians are liable to put on a show, elimination be damned. Argentina are going to have to go out and beat a quality team capable of both lighting them up or getting torched by their own rich attacking talent.
Argentina currently in 6th place, behind Peru on goals scored. The team is also threatened by Paraguay’s ascension and have to almost treat today’s match as a must-win. Here are a few scenarios where a draw could leave them with 26 points, the world’s greatest player and an entirely free summer schedule:
Chile loses by only one goal, Peru and Colombia draw, Paraguay wins – Argentina in SEVENTH (7th)
Chile loses by 2+; Peru and Colombia draw; Paraguay wins – Argentina in 6th.
Chile loses by 2+; Peru beats Colombia by only one goal; Paraguay wins – Argentina in 6th
If Argentina draw, these combinations could get them in:
Peru and Paraguay lose – Argentina in 5th at worst, could leapfrog Chile for 4th place if they lose by 2+
Chile loses by 2+; Paraguay wins; Peru loss OR Colombia loss by 2+ goals OR Colombia loss by 1 goal and Argentina scores 4 more goals than Colombia on Tuesday night – Argentina in 5th place over Colombia via head-to-head tiebreaker.
Chile draw/win; Peru loss; Paraguay loss – Argentina in 5th
Chile lose by 2+; Peru loss; Paraguay loss – Argentina in 4th
Argentina could technically advance with a loss if both Paraguay and Peru lose, but that’s a big ask. Instead, a win would put them at 28 points and through to at least the playoff. They would be beyond Paraguay’s reach while only Colombia or Peru could catch them with a victory. A win, a Chile loss and a Peru win of a smaller goal differential than Argentina’s own victory would leave Argentina sitting pretty in the 3rd spot. It’s advisable the team with the best player in the world just go out and win this fucking match to avoid ringing a triangle that sets off a crushing avalanche of indignity this generation of players may never climb out from.
Paraguay at Venezuela – Paraguay have a great chance to get to 27 points against bottom-feeders Venezuela, although Venezuela have been playing relatively better with 1 win, 2 losses and 4 draws over its last 7 qualifiers. Anything less than a win and they are, how do you say, proper fucked. They’d need Peru and Argentina to both lose by at least 7 goals each to advance with a draw because their currently-shit goal differential of -5. If Paraguay take three points while Peru and Argentina each do not win, Paraguay is, as the kids say, in there like swimwear. There being 5th place, but still into the playoff. Add a Chile loss to that and they could reach as high as fourth place.
Paraguay could advance with Peru and Argentina victories, though, if Chile takes that L in Brazil. Paraguay will be huge Brazilian and Ecuadorian fans tonight, because any Chile points and an Argentina victory essentially means elimination for Paraguay. They can’t be expected to make up goal differential, and they’ll be stuck behind those two with the chance to only get ahead of one of Peru or Colombia.
For Paraguay, the path to least resistance would be the great shame of the Pacific Coast, with both Chile and Peru losing. That would ensure them at least 5th place with the chance for more.
Bolivia at Uruguay – Not particularly important since Bolivia is eliminated and Uruguay have 28 points and a massive goal differential lead. The worst they could realistically drop to is 4th place.
For my own interests, I mostly need Peru and Argentina to make it in. I’m a first-generation son of a Peruvian, and Leo Messi is the closest thing I have to an omnipotent figure in my life. I need to see Peru make the World Cup in my lifetime (which will be easier as it expands to 48 teams in 2026), but I’d be heartbroken if the world is deprived of Messi’s last best chance to win a World Cup and polish off his resume as the GOAT for any remaining apostates. If I can really have it all, Peru and Argentina get in at the expense of Chile, noted thiefs of land, water and bicycle kick naming rights. Hell, those unoriginal bums have even tried to take goddamn potatoes from Peru in the last 10 years.
So pull up about four screens and watch gifted geniuses dance alongside battle-worn tanks of men not afraid to cut them down with an unforgiving tackle. There’ll be beautiful one-twos and through balls, players taking defenders on and hopefully some screamers, all interrupted by the mandatory pause as somebody gets the shit kicked out of them. It should be some 100 percent, uncut drama as the CONMEBOL table shape shifts and entire countries go from ecstatic to despondent in moments. It’ll be a hell of a time no matter who you root for. Just don’t cheer for Chile.
Dear Doc ,
I know you had a plan going into this season. I know that plan probably involved lots of CP3 and DeAndre pick and rolls, isos for Blake to show off how hard he’s been working with KG, and a few plays for J.J coming off of a couple screens. That plan is no longer feasible. Without CP3 most of these actions will be difficult to get going.
The roster you are stuck with is one that will have its struggles putting up points, but I think I have a solution: start Jamal Crawford. Continue reading
By Nov. 9, many Americans were searching for answers in a new reality that side-swiped us, launching us into a tempest of confusion and despair. Things we had taken for granted, that we understood as constants in the world, were violently stripped from us. Every prediction we made, each one lined with just a bit more smugness than the previous, was boiled down by what we witnessed into a fitting side for the massive servings of crow we each had to eat. Thousands, if not millions, of Crying MJs were turned away at the crossing point between drafts and actual tweets, never to see the light of day. Instead, it was all of us naysayers, those who doubted the unlikeliest of events, who were facing a tidal wave of memes.
The nation, dare I say the world, was shocked by the end of that night to see what was happening in Chicago. The Bulls were 4-4 after an eight-point loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Nov. 9. It wasn’t so much the .500 record that was confounding America. Rather, it was how they were doing it that had us confounded. The Bulls, who had acquired Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo over the summer, were fielding a cohesive, effective offense. Basketball lovers scoffed at how those two would mesh with Jimmy Butler on the court. The three presented a collection of ball-dominant players who, more or less, had shooting troubles. D-Wade came with a career three point shooting percentage of 28.4%, which roughly translates to ass. Rondo slightly outdid Wade with a 3P% of 28.9%, so ass but with 18 more second spent in the shower. Butler had his own deep-ball struggles, as he possessed a career 3P% of 32.8% coming into this year. Granted, Butler did put up a 37.8% in the 2014-15 season (Rondo had a career-best 36.5% with the Kings last year) and is a continually improving player in his prime, so he still had some hope.
This talk about the Bulls’ new big three isn’t meant to disparage the rest of their very special, very fun games. D-Wade has been a brilliant playmaker for both himself and teammates for what seems like forever now. He’ll always be a wonderful cutter and passer, with a smooth change of direction ability buttressed by some great mid-range shooting ability, all topped off by a great basketball mind and that goddamn pump fake that he’ll be getting people with until the End of Days. As previously stated, Butler is in his prime and is a dominant two-way player, combining a 20-5-5 average last year with great defense. Rondo, for all the ever-present criticisms of assist-hunting floating around, is still a passing savant. He is one of the players in the Ginobili/LeBron/Rubio mold whose understanding of angles, timing and physics enables them to see the game in a different way. Rondo is able to make passes others can’t not just because of his high-level skills and athleticism getting him into good positions but because he sees passes the rest of us don’t conceptualize until the ball is in the basket. Even with those whispers of him overpassing for his own numbers, Rondo’s league-leading 11.7 apg last year were still nothing to scoff at.
So, the issue isn’t that these guys are trash players. It’s that the fit was always going to be weird, since all of their skills are best utilized when they have the ball. When they’re off the ball, they mostly hurt their teammates because their lack of shooting allows defenders to sag off them and clog the lane, which makes getting into the paint for high quality shots harder. All of us laughed at the roster construction and talked about how constipated the offense would be based on everything we knew about these players and the modern NBA. However, haters be damned, these guys were doing it! Through that 4-4 stretch, the Bulls had a 108.9 Offensive Rating, good for fourth in the league. Wade was shooting 42.9% from deep through those first eight games! I don’t fuckin’ know either, dude. Butler was throwing up a 24-7-4 line with a 45.2% clip from three. Rondo was…shooting like absolute dogshit, but hey! Go back up a few sentences and look at that ORtg again! Pretty, right? The Bulls would proceed to go on a four-game win streak and get to 8-4, leaving us snarky assholes to re-evaluate the Bulls.
While the shooting woes being conquered were impressive and shocking on their own, what was even more impressive was the lack of personal conflict, particularly among Wade and Rondo. I had based my entire worldview around the idea that Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo fucking hated each other. Years of Eastern Conference rivalry between the Heat and Celtics had steeled the two, leaving a trail of snide comments and ugly plays occurring between them.
It made perfect sense: take two driven, highly competitive players, put them in enough high-leverage situations and eventually bad blood will appear. Throw in Wade’s penchant for making some – ahem – ethically questionable plays and Rondo’s standoffish, prodding persona, and conflict was almost inevitable. Look, I’ve never met Rondo and he doesn’t know who I am, but I have operated under the assumption that he hates me. Imagine being a guy who kept pissing him off in big games and directly contributed to DISLOCATING HIS GODDAMN ELBOW; it makes sense Rondo wouldn’t fuck with him. Look, this person made a three minute video chronicling their beef (CAUTION: SAID ELBOW DISLOCATING HAPPENS FROM LIKE :30 TO 1:30 AND ARE NOT IDEAL IMAGES). Them motherfuckers got into it in a tight Game 7! They were ready to give up points to the opposition in a do-or-die game just to let the other know they were a dickhead. I was certain the chemistry issues would be resolved before the season started via one of the two strangling the other during training camp. But, things were generally sailing smoothly. The team was 4 games above .500, and before the season started Wade was saying nice things like Rondo is the best point guard he ever played with. The offensive success and lack of beef had all of us looking like the Mr. Krabs meme.
The Bulls’ short-term success wasn’t the most shocking thing going on for America at that time, though. I’m sorry to be the one to break the news, but on Nov. 8 we elected Donald Trump to be President of the United States of America. Trump, a racist shit-for-brains real estate-tycoon and reality TV star, ran on an “America First” campaign centered on economic protectionism and populism at home and hate of the outside world, particularly Muslims and immigrants. The man whose entrance into the political sphere was the racist-ass questioning of Barack Obama’s legitimacy as president via birtherism was revealed to be an aelleged serial sexual abuser via many accusations and recordings of him bragging about sexual assault, and he was still fucking elected. While not all those who voted for him endorsed every one of the disgusting things he proposed and said, they did let it slide in the interest of whatever other part of his platform appealed to them. Many Americans, as much as we probably shouldn’t have been, were shocked to see America’s flaws laid so bare by elevating that man to the most powerful position in the world.
Since assuming the Presidency on Jan. 20, Trump has not pivoted. Turns out the aspirational authoritarian has proceeded to work on all the things he promised to do; shocker, I know. He has signed executive orders to BUILD THAT WALL FUCK YEAH, to cut off U.S. funding from any worldwide charity helping the world’s most vulnerable for so much as mentioning abortions, to ban Muslims from certain countries, leaving people to face horrors our nation has greatly contributed to over the years, very much exacerbated through Barack Obama’s foreign policy. The ban has even affected people already here on green cards and visas, with people reportedly already being stopped from re-entering the country they live in. All the while, he has been bringing in a collection of unqualified and/or malicious lackeys to run his federal departments, with many Democrats offering a very on-brand capitulation to Trump’s nominations. Bleeding-heart pinkos like myself have been thrown for a loop at the degradation of others and the march toward authoritarianism becoming the new normal.
Sensing a divided nation searching for its own soul and any concrete answers in this post-fact world, Wade, Rondo and Butler sprung to action like three cantankerous defenders of sanity. Since that 8-4 start, the Bulls have gone 15-21 to hit a 23-25 mark. Their ORtg has fallen to 103.7 before Friday’s game against the Heat, good for 20th in the NBA. Jimmy Buckets is actually playing well to the tune of a 25-7-5 stat line with some good high-volume shooting, including a 35.4% 3P%. Wade, on the other hand, has fallen back down to earth. He’s shooting 42.8% overall, which would be the worst-shooting season of his career. His 3P% has fallen to 31.9%, which would be a career high for him, but still well below an effective and respectable level in the league. Rondo is particularly struggling, putting up 6.4 points, 6.5 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game with a ghastly 36.4% overall FG%. You can credit their performances falling back in line with their historical trends on a larger sample size and them regressing to their means, but I like to imagine the Bulls’ Big Three as patriots building a foundation of hope for us, brick by brick.
That theory has only been amplified over the past few days. In the wake of those garbage things the garbage human running our country has been doing, the Big Three have really cranked up the normalcy for us. Following Wednesday’s loss to the Bucks, Butler and Wade decided to lay into their coaching, their teammates and their whole motherfucking crew. “We don’t play hard enough. This is your job. I want to play with guys who care,” Butler said. Wade went even further, saying, “I can look at Jimmy and say Jimmy is doing his job. I think Jimmy can look at me and say Dwyane is doing his job. I don’t know if we can keep going down the line and be able to say that.”
That’s some quality shit-talking right there. Solid job to get in your teammates asses, y’all. Of course, the Connect Four Gawd wasn’t just going to let these motherfuckers say whatever slick shit they wanted. Rajon took to Instagram to basically say, “Well y’all are actually are the ones who are Not Good.”
While we should technically hear both sides, I think the most important thing is Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade can’t fucking stand each other again. That little dash of normalcy is just what we need right now. Remember, America: while we fret over the presidency of Donald Trump and the tarring and feathering of the values we want this country to live up to, take solace in the fact that Rondo is probably currently telling his friend about how Dwyane Wade is a “weaselly, two-faced fucking prick with the tendencies of the most annoying person from your high school class.” In this age of absurdity, anger and failure to understand our neighbors both foreign and domestic, let us use the renewed pettiness between two declining, multimillionaire NBA players who have no idea who we are as the rock to hold onto when all else is lost.
As the NBA All-Star Teams are announced I find it appropriate to recognize another group of players. Players who have succumbed to father time’s will, yet made the decision to play in spite of this. Gaining the moniker “veteran” and following the great mantra of Jalen Rose, these men have decided to “keep gettin’ them checks”. In honor of Gilbert Arenas and those who follow him, here is the third edition of the Keep Gettin’ Them Checks All-Stars. Feed them kids and pay those bills gentlemen.
Minimum of 31 years old
Guards: <5 PPG, ❤ APG, <4 RPG, <1 SPG <1 BPM (Jacque Vaughn Standard)
Forwards <5 PPG, ❤ APG, <6 RPG, <.7 BPG, <1 BPM (Brian Cardinal Standard)
Centers < 5 PPG, ❤ APG, <6 RPG, <.7 BPG, <1BPM (Jason Collins Standard)
Paid Like: Tony Allen
Numbers Like: Greivis Vasquez
Playing on what looks like to be the next SuperSonics, Watson has gone from solid back up to watching Elfrid Payton and Jameer Nelson try their hardest. At least he has a front row seat.
Paid Like: Brandon Bass
Numbers Like: Georges Niang
Remember when Steve Novak made as many threes as Durant? Remember when he led the league in three point percentage? He was poised to replace Mike Miller as America’s favorite old white guy with a sweet three point stroke. Heavy lies the crown, too heavy for him.
Paid Like: Raymond Felton
Numbers Like: Sheldon McClellan
It was only a matter of time. The Jet is slowly descending. Success at 39 in professional athletics is waking up with minimal pain and requiring minimal treatment. One of the last five players still in the league who was drafted before Y2K. As he once said though:“Jet love the kids”. He does. Enough to get this direct deposit.
Paid Like: Anthony Morrow
Numbers Like: Pat Connaughton
He rose from the grave through extensive rehab in an effort to steal get his crown back from Kyle Korver. The stroke is there, but the numbers aren’t. The question now is what are his aims? Is he grooming Danilo Gallinari as his protege?
Paid Like: Thabo Sefolosha
Numbers Like: Deyonta Davis
Toughness is a quality that now seems to be highly underrated by general managers of teams today. Just like the NHL, enforcers are a thing of the past. But relics should be treasured. For being the last of a dying breed, I salute you UD. You got your rings, now keep getting them checks.
Paid Like: Mitch McGary
Numbers Like: Tyler Ennis
This man came into the league eligible for this team. His play confirmed his membership. Averaging nearly a turnover a game, the former Shaqtin MVP candidate, is one of three members on the Lakers’ roster born before 1985. Despite his penchant for embarrassing plays, this man still maintains a roster spot. #GoMarce
Paid Like: Will Barton
Numbers Like: Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot
KG left. Ray Allen left. You couldn’t take the hint could you? You had to go chase a ring in L.A didn’t you? You had to have your family and friends close didn’t you? Join the other members of the Boston Three Party on the other side. Join them in obscurity and being the center of 10-day contract rumors, like Ray, or at the analyst table, like KG, (You had fun with Jalen didn’t you?).
Paid Like: Rodney Hood
Numbers Like: Malik Beasley
I miss the old Sasha. Wearing the headband Sasha. Remember what Kobe got ya? It was a ring Sasha. I hate the new Sasha. The limited threes Sasha. Still in the league Sasha? Knicks you should leave Sasha.
(If you’re on the Knicks at this point I’m just going to assume you’re only in it for the money).
Paid Like: Al Jefferson
Numbers Like: Miles Plumlee
I don’t know how LeBron chooses who he likes but when he does he gets his guys. This man, Mike Miller, and James Jones have made their lives to roll with him. Except Varejao betrayed the player/coach/GM/mafioso boss and suffered a finals loss because of it.
Paid Like: Clint Capela
Numbers Like: Shabazz Napier
He’s been on a world tour all across the land played in each and every country with a ball in his hand. New York, Crotia, Israel, China. Unfortunately the New York stop was with the Nets in the last two seasons. His current stop is on the Clippers.
For next season I’m on the lookout for the following players to be on this team for the first time:
The following men have embodied the true spirit of the mantra “Keep Gettin’ Them Checks” in the manner of the greatest check collector ever: Bobby Bonilla. Here are the nominees to join the inaugural class alongside Gilbert Arenas.
Paid Like: JaMychal Green
After playing on the Clippers, when that meant something completely different, this man has earned his money. I’m happy he’s getting it from their modern day equivalent: the 76ers.
Paid Like: David West
Shoutout to the man name “Tuff Juice” who managed to finesse the most dysfunctional NBA team into paying him while he racks up no mileage on his body. Though he is not on the level of Bobby Bonilla and the GOAT Gilbert Arenas, his veterans’ minimum will do him very well over the next three years.
Paid Like: Bobby Brown
Will he ever play in the NBA as much as he does the CBA? Probably not. Will these NBA checks still keep clearing? Definitely yes.
Paid Like: Justin Holiday
The youngest to appear on this list, but just like the Hall of Fame changed its rules for Shaq so shall we for this finesse lord. His youth does not detract from his ability to collect checks. He faked it and he made it. The checks from the Nets are real though.
Based on the way people are reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem and confusing it with disrespect for the nation’s military and everything the flag stands for, I feel like I need to break some news to y’all.
Sources familiar with the situation are indicating that it’s just not that deep, fam.
As a matter of fact, here’s a handy graphic showing you how deep it’s not:
What’s happened here is pretty clear. People, white people in particular, have ignored the statement Kaepernick was trying to make regarding the way black people are treated by the police and decided to have the red herring discussion of how disrespectful he was to the military.
I’ve even heard the argument that by not saluting the flag he is disrespecting everyone who’s ever fought defending. This argument has been circulating unironically, as people neglect to realize that part of what our military tries to defend is the right to do things like peaceful protest. And apparently Kaepernick comes from the Rosa Parks school of thought that says the best way to peacefully protest is to sit your black ass down while the white people around you lose their minds.
But the timing of this is interesting, as there hasn’t been any one incident of excessive police violence that has recently dominated the national conversation. Maybe Kaepernick just went down the depressing-ass Youtube rabbit hole of police killings that I refuse to go down myself and came out with a new perspective. However he reached his enlightenment, the decision to address it the way he did shows a level of fearlessness on his part, a fearlessness that was not shared by his teammates as they all responded with some variety of “he’s entitled to his own opinion.”
But while his teammates at least didn’t do anything stupid like forget Kaepernick was black or revealing yourself to be a resident of masta’s house, there doesn’t appear to be too much support for someone who has been very clear about what he is and is not taking a stand against when asked by the media that surrounded his locker after the third game of the preseason.
People are still looking for ways to make the flag into some untouchable symbol beyond criticism while pretending the Star-Spangled Banner is the hottest track ever recorded. Let’s be real: that song is in desperate need of a remix. Maybe Desiigner can do some ad-libs. Have Funk Master Flex throw in some bomb drops over “the bombs bursting in air” part of the song. Dr. Dre can remix the national anthem to build anticipation for his forthcoming album that never comes. Beyonce and hologram Whitney Houston can team up on the vocals. Big Sean can spit a fire verse at the end, only to be upstaged again when Kendrick spits his verse. DJ Khaled can say something ridiculous and patriotic as the song fades out. (“They don’t want us to dump the tea in the harbor, so we dumped the tea in the harbor. That’s a major key.”) If we do this right, this can be the hottest posse cut since “We are the World.”
The idea of having a full on remix of a national anthem is ridiculous, if for no other reason than hologram Whitney Houston would sing Beyonce under the table and cause wars to break out in the hashtags on Black Twitter as the old heads argued with young bucks about who the better singer was.
However, turning Kaepernick’s stand for justice into an opportunity to get into an irrelevant debate about his respect for the country and the military is equally ridiculous and not nearly as funny.
One of the more interesting debates that has emerged from this is the discussion of whether Kaepernick’s protest against police brutality has failed. It’s too early to tell if it has failed, but if it does, it will be because his message was purposely mangled by those who would rather pretend to care about the troops more than they actually do than discuss the reality that a large segment of the populations views traffic stops as near death experiences.
I was originally going to write a really serious piece in which I would dismantle the thinly-veiled racism that surrounds the “shut up and play” narrative that has been used to discredit Kaepernick’s peaceful protest. If black people hadn’t been experiencing this since the days of Jack Johnson, I’d be more surprised and feel more compelled to talk about this without the jest.
I was even going to relate my own personal story about how San Francisco’s finest tried to jam me up one night, and the only thing that kept me from going to jail was the receipt I had in a shopping bag that proved I was where I said I was. (Shout out to Patrice O’Neal for teaching me how to prove my innocence.)
But, since we arrived at such a familiar place with Kaepernick’s protest, a discussion of the quality of our dated national anthem seems much more appropriate.
If Kap is anything like me, maybe he would feel better if a song that represented his black experience was playing. I bet we can get him to stand for the black national anthem.
Luis Suárez scored a hat trick.
Let’s just get this out of the way now. Luis Suárez scored three total goals against Real Betis in Barcelona’s 6-2 thrashing of Real Betis. And two of them were really, really, REALLY great goals! The kind of goals that that reaffirm his status as the best striker in the world, a truly singular talent who can do everything from the number 9 position. We’ll talk about them a little bit more later, but these were honest-to-goodness goals that make you shake your head at just how special Luis Suárez is and go, “Oh, this is same son of a bitch who won the Pichichi last year; the guy who drove Liver-fucking-pool to the brink of a Premier League title in the year of our Lord 2014.”
But we’re here to talk about Lionel Messi. Even while Suárez was operating at peak levels of devastation, this match was about Lionel Andrés Messi. In a game where his sudamericano counterpart bagged three goals, the mite-sized Leviathan from Argentina offered up an exhibition in singular genius. The modern legends are exalted for their ability to merely breathe the same air as him. The past heroes were prophets preparing us for him. He is the One True God.
Yeah, it’s almost 13 minutes, but it’s almost 13 minutes of Messi, and Barca as a whole, beating the brakes off of a mid-table team. On La Liga’s opening day, the Blaugrana opted for a tour de force. You wanna go through each play and slobber over just how stupid this team, spearheaded by the g r e a t e s t p l a y e r o f a l l t i m e, is? Well, that’s just what we’re gonna do.
Let’s break it down by timestamp on the video. I added some videos of select plays, because apparently WordPress is some haters and don’t want me to prosper and use GIFs anymore. The videos aren’t clean in terms of there’s too much cushion on each side sometimes, to which I say, fuck you, I tried hard as hell on these shits.
Oh, yeah, the football.
0:20 – And so La Pulga kicks off this highlight video with one of the Messi motifs: the cross-field diagonal ball to the opposite forward/fullback. He’s made this a specialty since Neymar and Suárez have come into the fold, shifting the balance of the field after attracting too much attention to his side. When two of the world’s five best players joined him in Cataluña, the 5’6″ goalscoring machine became the best passer in the world, cause I guess that’s a fun thing to do. Here’s the situation right before Lionel uncorked his pass:For those of us struggling with colorblindness/arithmetic, that’s eight Betis players, although two are just rushing back. There’s six Barca players in the mix. Aaaand then this happens:
That’s just Messi using his left foot to simply send a 40-yard ball to a sprinting Jordi Alba, who subsequently sets up Arda Turan for easy buckets. I don’t even know anyone else who attempts this pass with any regularity (please, inform me; this all carries the Karl Don’t Know Dick caveat). Messi does it multiple times a game with all the effort of a slightly-more-than-mild sneeze.
2:15 – Messi plays a quick one-two in the box before getting his shot blocked. After the block, the ball lands back at his feet, and he responds with a right-footed rip kissing the crossbar. Not the best defending by Betis, letting him make a run and get open after the pass, but it wasn’t like there was a lack of effort on Messi’s part. That’s just another part of just how complete he is: he can dribble around 100 people, shoot your fucking eyes out, and even at the size of a promising tween, he has a mastery of the penalty box. Even if he doesn’t get on the end of each cross with his head, he finds space to get on the end of balls during Barca’s dizzying exchanges and slot them home.
2:44 – And we have our first La Liga goal of the season from el genio de Rosario. Look, I don’t know why they gave him any space right outside the box. We’ve seen this a million times. It’s another of his motifs: get the ball in the right channel, go middle, skip past one/two/seven dudes, and rip a shot to the far post. I mean, easy for my ass to say it as I eat jambalaya. Everybody knows it’s what he wants to do, but it ain’t so easy to stop. Usually the shot has a bit more finesse, but this time he just hits the dick out of the ball. Goalie doesn’t have a chance in the fucking world, man.
3:53 – Hold on, this is Suárez’s first goal. Dude, that shit ain’t no goddamn joke. A cross on the ground flying at his feet, and he one-times it with his laces *across his body* for a perfect laser to the far post. That’s really some “Hey it’s like me and three other people that can do this” type-shit. Luis Suárez is the best striker in the world and a true joy to watch. Most other days, a goal like that, along with the rest of his day, would be the lead story. But this ain’t one of those days.
5:01 – Hahahaha I love Arda Turan so much. After being the baby star on the Euro 2008 Turkey squad and him humming his shoe at the linesman during open play, he is unimpeachable. On this play, Messi gets set up nicely in the middle and does *the* classic Messi shot with designs on curling it far post. However, Antonio Adán made a great save, although not enough to stop it altogether. No worries, Antonio, Arda’s there to try and clean up the ball rolling toward the net and get called for being offside. What a guy. (I am very happy Turan is getting a chance to shine in Neymar’s absence and doing well; he’s brilliant)
5:42 – Another strong, curled shot that Adán somehow turns away. Really, the main story here is just how sharp Luis Suárez is. He gets the ball, plays it out wide, and immediately gets a one-touch pass headed back to him. BUT, he somehow understands Messi is on his other side running onto it, and lets the ball roll to him for the shot. Suárez really can do it all. He has strength on the ball, he can dribble past guys (and DEMORALIZE them), he can finish with the best of them, and he’s got a special understanding of how to work with teammates. I am so glad he has gotten to play with Messi, just to give the GOAT a center forward who sees the game in the same way as him.
6:21 – The little fucker tries a ridiculous lofted pass, which is thankfully snuffed out by Betis (thankfully because you have to throw hands if he does that to you). Barca immediately presses, and Messi goes into perro mode and gets the rock back. He immediately skips past one guy, draws the eyes of the entire Betis defense, cuts to get enough space, and sets up Denis Suárez for a beautiful shot in the middle of the box. He’s all alone, but the ball is lofted and a bit behind him, so he has to pull some scissor-kick-ish shit. All things considered, Suárez does well with the ball, although it goes straight to Adán for a comfortable save. But another play by Messi, getting around multiple guys and setting up a teammate in space. Water wet, Jupiter large, Messi good.
7:01 – Genius. That about covers it. I’m perfectly fine with the doctor who gave Messi hormone therapy winning the Nobel Prize for Medicine every year for the rest of his life.
Barca clears a Betis corner, and it ends up at Messi’s feet with three quarters of the pitch ahead of him. He carries it, carries it, gets near the Betis box, and at this point one of their defenders decides, “Well, fuck, can’t avoid this anymore,” and gives it the old La Liga try. Well, Messi slaloms past him, passes it outside, then beats *three* more guys with a diagonal run into the box. Upon receiving it, he sends a perfect weighted ball across his fucking body, across goal, to give Luisito a tap-in. It helps having teammates who facilitate your greatness, but Messi’s singular genius concocts a goal out of this. The pace, the dribbling, the off-ball movement, the perfect pass: when players have TWO of the skills shown here, they are marvelous, world class talents. Meanwhile this asshole just corks out a PCP hallucination every other time he gets the ball.
8:38 – I mean, I’ve seen this a million times before, but it’s still refreshing to see Messi hitting ’em with the laces. Maybe this he’s gonna try more power shots all year, just cause he’s bored and needs a new challenge, a la Larry Bird playing left-handed.
And now for the reason the title of this fucking blog is what it is: I was legitimately worried about Messi after this summer. After the heartbreak of the Copa America, where Messi, with the weight of Argentina’s voracious hopes taking an extended rest on his back, skied his penalty kick to fucking Venus, I was worried. He quit the national team! He was so broken after all the disappointment in his nation’s colors that he was ready to walk away (or, it was a leverage play to push for organziational change within the AFA, but don’t fuck up the narrative, here, man. We’re spinnin’ yarns, fool) from it all.
Then, he came back with that blonde ass hair, and I was certain: he’d finally snapped. He had a breakdown after the constant shit he gets in Argentina, what with being the best player in the world, but never being able to secure a trophy for his homeland outside of the Olympics or youth levels. No matter how brilliant he is, no matter how well or not well his team played, an excruciating tournament final loss was around the corner, because life doesn’t give a fuck about your feelings. The questions popped up all over again: “why can’t he be the same player for Argentina that he is in Spain?” “Why can’t he be like Maradona?” I hate speculating on psychological bullshit concerning athletes, but I (did it anyway cause I’m a prick) thought it all finally pushed him past his limit.
Well, I guess he’s all right. He’s back in the national team fold, having not missed one Argentina match. His blonde hair, while still unsettling, sure looks good when he scores. The effortlessness of this instep drive betrays a guy who’s back to doing what he does best, what he does better than anyone ever: sliding around the tackles of defenders who even know they’re done when they go for the challenge, hitting passes all over the field, and slamming shots home from every angle you can think of, and some you can’t. And then smiling when his little plan that subverts the rules of football the rest of us humans have to follow all works out.
9:47 – Again, the motherfucker is just relentless, bruh. A Barca pass goes astray, so Messi figures he’ll just go and get the ball back, thank you very much. Ball acquired, he plays it out wide and breaks toward the box in one motion. He receives a pass back, because you reward the little Large Hadron Collider project come to life when he bursts into space, and he one-times a shot, only to be blocked again.
10:13 – Okay, here’s Suárez’s third goal. WOO, boy, that is a fucking free kick and a half. Again, these are goals that only world class players can pull off. Unfortunately, Luis’s buddy picked Saturday as the day to reassert his status as galaxy class. Still: Suárez’s goal ain’t nothing to sneeze at. Reminder: their other star, the other guy who’s one of the five best players in the world, isn’t even back from winning his country gold in the Olympics. How Barca are allowed to have this triumvirate of hellfire is beyond me.
11:40 – And one for the road. Messi heads a ball back to Suárez, cause he can do that too, I guess. He eventually gets the ball back in a sliver of space on the edge of the box. His first touch takes him to more space inside, he avoids a sliding tackle by millimeters while maintaining perfect balance, and feeds a perfect weighted ball to Digne, who gets stymied by Adán. He’s turning precise, perfect execution into the routine.
By my count, Messi had seven shots on goal, with two of those resulting in goals. Real Betis had six total shots. As a team. Not on goal. They only had two on goal. So, that’s a bit of a disparity (Barca had 30 total shots and 12 on goal as a whole). He also had the beautiful assist to Suárez, and two more tantalizing chances created for other teammates. Oh, and there was that hockey assist to Alba to set up the first goal. There is no spectacle quite like watching Lionel Andrés Messi tie a pocket watch to his left foot, hypnotize the entire match and exert total control over it for 90 minutes. The defenders follow his every move until he feels ready to dispose of them. The physics of the game bend to his will. The crowd groans with terror or roars with joy, depending on partisan interests. He creates what he wants, either for himself or his teammates. He is in charge of this universe, so our job is to just figure out if he’s a benevolent overlord.
Lionel Messi is back in our lives, and he’s doing all right. Let’s enjoy it.