I miss Nenad Krstic.
Not necessarily anything about Krstic in particular, although his offensive game sometimes proved stimulating, his hairline was ever enjoyable, and the nickname Curly cracked me up every time. I just miss being able to watch basketball, to judge new players, to analyze and sometimes over-analyze players that have been with the Celtics for years, and others that have been with the Celtics for weeks. I miss that Krstic’s shots floated gently to the rim, and yes, I even miss that his box-outs were somehow more gentle than that. I miss that he once scored 20 points and nine rebounds yet I still abused him in the game recap because his help defense (if you could call it that) contributed to DeAndre Jordan’s 27,839 dunks (estimation). I miss the stages of rooting for Krstic last season:
1) ugh, he’ll never be Perk
2) awesome, he’s not Perk!
3) damn it, he’s not Perk
4) awesome, he’s not Glen Davis!
5) but still, he’s not Perk
The NBA is hibernating, who knows when it will wake up, and for now I’m stuck missing Nenad Krstic, even though I never loved (or even really liked) his game in the first place. The lockout has my emotions spinning like Barry Zito’s curveball in 2002, dancing like an in-his-prime Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball (can somebody buy that man a win?), and going up and down like Steve Nash’s handle. Optimism has leaked out of the NBA’s latest round of meetings, but still, powerful agent Bill Duffy said, “It seems like the sides are really far apart.”
If you follow me on Twitter, you saw me ask the question, “If the NBA and its players are actually optimistic about the lockout, um, then why are players still signing overseas?” The conversation eventually turned to J.R. Smith, who is reportedly close to signing a $3 million deal to play in China, where his contract will not include a lockout clause. If you believe in the lockout optimism, Smith’s deal is head-scratching: even if he believed signing in China would increase his endorsement potential, why would Smith sign for $3 million in China when his market value in the NBA is presumably higher, possibly even much higher?
Kelly Dwyer noted the possibility that Smith may need money immediately to cover his substantial bills, and that’s entirely possible. But there’s also this: an escrow check totaling approximately $480,000 will soon come in Smith’s mail. If the NBA season were to start on time, it would start next month. That $480,000 is not significantly less than Smith’s monthly pay last season, $563, 154.25 (his yearly contract divided by twelve) — if Smith believed the season were going to start on time, his escrow check should be enough to tide him over. Maybe Smith is just keeping his options open by participating in contract dialogue with the Chinese Basketball Association. Maybe he does need money, he needs a sure thing, and the lockout talks sound optimistic but he just can’t chance it. Or maybe J.R. Smith and his agent, who presumably know more about the labor talks than I do, are afraid the NBA season won’t start on time.
That possibility, no matter how strong, freaks me out. Hell, I already miss Nenad Krstic.
If the NBA misses a significant amount of games, the Celtics stand to be among the biggest losers. A lost season could end the Big Three era, and a shortened season could prove nearly as harmful — a shortened season would result in more back-to-back games, which would result in broken down veteran bodies, which would result in extra losses and injuries and the lack of homecourt advantage in the playoffs. The Celtics were a very good team last year, but they were undressed by Miami in the second round. Best-case scenario in 2011-12, the Celtics use their limited (read: zero) cap space to reload their bench, the new bench alleviates pressure from the Big Three, the Fantastic Four all enter the playoffs healthy, Rajon Rondo takes the next step toward becoming consistently great, and Jermaine O’Neal and Big Man X provide an inside presence the broken-down O’Neal duo couldn’t last season. But the 2011-12 Celtics are like a Jenga tower. The Celtics need every block in the right spot to remain contenders next season. If a lockout causes any harm at all, if one block falls out of place, the Jenga tower will collapse and the Celtics will peter of out the playoffs too early.
Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce are all noted professionals with impressive work ethics, but time keeps ticking into the future, and the 1999 NBA lockout hit veterans with a haymaker that some couldn’t survive. Vin Baker was third-team All-NBA the year before the lockout, an overweight alcoholic when the NBA returned. Shawn Kemp was a walking highlight film the year before the lockout, a cautionary tale after it. The Big Three aren’t likely to return with a beer belly or a substance abuse problem, but they don’t need to: if the lockout even causes one of the Big Three to lose a single step, the Jenga tower could come to a swift crash and the Big Three Era could evaporate into the NBA annals with barely a whisper.
For now, we don’t know when the NBA will rise from its deep sleep. We don’t know when we’ll get another glimpse of Garnett’s volcanic eyes, Pierce’s calculated precision, Ray’s baby powder jump shot, or Rondo’s one-step-ahead-of-you creativity.
All we know is uncertainty. We hear recent optimism, but it’s sprinkled with pessimism, and when J.R. Smith signs a deal in China, we wonder whether that’s more a sign about the NBA lockout or Smith’s bank account.
And meanwhile, I miss Nenad Krstic. Make it end.