Today we're wrapping up our look at the D-League's offseason so far through the lens of "Dave Chappelle's Block Party." Part 2 somehow ended up even longer than part 1, even though I left stuff out, both from the offseason and the movie. I mean, I didn't even get to talk about my favorite thing in the entire movie, when Michel Gondry asks Jill Scott if she's nervous about performing after Erykah Badu and she laughs at him for six solid seconds. Instead of rehashing things here, then, I'll direct you to part 1 for a brief summary of what we're doing here and of "Dave Chappelle's Block Party," and to my thoughts on offseason developments involving players and coaches below the jump.
"Ahmir Thompson, I'm the official photographer of this event."
The unsung hero of the concert is the Roots' drummer Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson, who not only plays with his band but who served as the concert's musical director, hiring musicians to play as a sort-of house band during everyone else's sets (except for the Fugees), and who had to learn/teach five songs for every artist who performed. Other than during the Fugees' set and Jill Scott's (and maybe one other, but that's all I could see), ?uest was onstage playing drums the entire time. The band he got together sounds good, too, and he's a somewhat-notoriously precise bandleader so that makes sense, but I can't imagine he had a ton of time to go over everything. His role isn't really discussed in the film - his non-musical time on camera is spent mostly talking about the other performers and their audience - and it's certainly not called attention to by others, but it's pretty clear the concert couldn't have been as successful as it was from an artistic standpoint without his leadership behind the drums. Sure they could've just used DJs (A-Trak was there for Kanye's set, for instance). After all, who cares what the guitar part sounds like as long as the raps are good, right? But the result has a lot more energy and contributes more to the block party atmosphere than just having a DJ would. And that leads me to talk about coaches.
There's been some recent discussion around here about what attributes a D-League coach should have - is it an ability to teach the offense a particular NBA team runs or is it an ability to help players develop their games and make themselves more NBA-ready? Hardwood Paroxysm's Matt Moore believes that a D-League affiliate should exist as a testing lab, to basically do whatever the NBA team tells it to do, and not worry about winning games. But here's the thing - you can do both. In Austin, Quin Snyder compiled the second-best record in the league all while helping Dwayne Jones dramatically improve his free-throw shooting and developing Marcus Williams into a capable point guard, not to mention all the call-ups, injuries and players joining the team mid-season that he had to deal with. The Utah Flash made the conference finals while having players from the Jazz and Celtics cycle in and out throughout the season. Another point is that, if at this point, with not every NBA team owning its own affiliate, if a coach is only focused on developing the NBA assignees, other talented players aren't going to want to play there, and that doesn't serve anyone well. Heck, even with directly-affiliated teams like the Toros, Williams wasn't an NBA assignee when he joined the team, but he showed enough and improved enough throughout the season that the Spurs decided to put him on their roster, even though that meant releasing Malik Hairston to do so. That's important because if NBA teams are truly going to benefit from having a minor league, they'll have to use it to find unsung players who can contribute to their team and who they can sign for relatively little, not just as a place to send the multi-million dollar center who needs to work on his offensive game.
That's the concern that we at RU have with some of the recent hirings and potential hirings - some teams understand that you can do both, while others have an offense apparently so complex that only members of the Adelman family can grasp it fully that they hire a coach to do nothing more than tell players where to stand at what times and hopefully, maybe, please, at least try get the ball in the basket occasionally. Or, they hire coaches to do nothing more than get people in the door because they remember he used to play NBA basketball in that state (for a team that isn't even affiliated with the team he's coaching), without giving thought to the fact that winning games and playing good basketball gets people in the door. So I'd like this opportunity to salute all the solid, ?uestlove-like head coaching hires that were made this offseason, but were done so long ago that it's hard to remember them happening. I'm talking about guys like Tony Fritz, Joey Meyer, Nate Tibbetts, Chucky Brown and Rory White. Not all of them will succeed in their opportunities, that's the nature of the business. But, I'd say right now that their teams likely have a better chance to succeed both from a player development and an in-game standpoint. Not flashy hires, but solid and likely effective ones.
"We took a trip on the Staten Island Ferry, a little ocean voyage to Staten Island. And as we walked the streets of Staten Island what did we discover in the gutter but an angel, broken in seven pieces. When we both discovered this I turned to him, who was not my husband at the time, and I said 'it's an omen! It's a sign! I'm to marry you, of all people!' and I did. I married him, and Sunday is our 46th wedding anniversary."
Guess who? The rest of the story is that the guy put the angel back together, and in its broken-and-glued-back-together state it acquired a kind of grace to replace its former factory-made stiffness. The house they found abandoned and broken, and are putting back together, and that's why they call it the Broken Angel house. But go back to that quote. You decided to marry a guy because you both found a broken statue? In the gutter? In Staten Island? That was the sign that this guy was the one for you? Did a watery tart lob a scimitar at you as well?
Speaking of odd decision-making processes, Bakersfield decided to lets its season-ticket holders and members of the media vote on three finalists for their coaching search, then when two of the three finalists took other jobs they just hired the third guy rather than asking for another vote or interviewing other candidates. The Will Voigt era has begun! Honestly, his resume is starting to look more and more distinguished as more relatives and guys who got bored with broadcasting become head coaches, but the process by which he was hired seems full of terrible ideas. The media should decide who the coach is? Really? People who, by and large, don't care whether someone can or should play or coach or not, so long as they give good copy? And while giving the fans a greater investment in the team is fine and all, especially when you're about to charge an arm and a leg for tickets, shouldn't basketball decisions be made by, you know, basketball people?
"This is called the Airplane Room that we're in now. My son named this room the Airplane Room. He had a tent, he lived in a tent, he was 15, and all the planes flying over to LaGuardia fly over this building."
The Broken Angel couple have a son! A child grew up in that insane house! If it's only one-third complete after 40 years, what state was it in when their son lived there? How old is this guy now, anyway? What does he do now? A public interest lawyer sounds about right, doesn't it? I'm pretty fascinated with this guy who never appears on camera and who's mentioned only once, in passing. And do you know who else has a son? Danny Ainge! And he was the best candidate the Red Claws could find for their head coaching position!
"I intend to live to probably about 400, as I am also a witch, but a good witch, and I only want happiness for mankind, not to create chaos and to be angry at everyone, but to he happy. That is my aim in life, to give happiness to the world."
Oh. Oooooookay. That's the Broken Angel house lady (their names are never given), but it's also how I reacted to the Dee Brown hiring. I know why the Armor did it. I'm not sure I agree with it, but he's at least been a coach before so we'll see how it goes. As with Ainge, and with Voigt, and with whatever coach ends up in Rio Grande Valley, they may succeed. But at this point I'm not all that optimistic of their chances.
(Also, now do you see why Gondry was so taken with the Broken Angel couple? Also, I've probably come across as a little too mocking of them, when in fact they seem really nice and genuine, and the outside of the house itself looks pretty fantastic. They also talked about their plans to put an old Sea King helicopter at the top of it and turn it into a sculpture of a whale, which is also fantastic. Oh right, BASKETBALL.)
Common is in this movie, did I mention that? There's not really a good quote from/about him so I'll just talk about it. He actually performed a set of his own at the concert, but that got cut from the film. Instead, he shows up in other performers' sets, rapping his part to Kanye West's "Get 'Em High" and Erykah Badu's "Love of My Life." He's also hanging around during Mos Def/Talib Kweli/Black Star's set. I don't know if they performed "Respiration" though or if he just decided to hang out onstage and be the hype man. Aside from the odd little bounce that Common does when he raps, the notable thing about his appearances in the movie is that he seems genuinely happy to be hanging out with the other performers and supporting them onstage. He's also something of a (pretty literal) spiritual leader for the group, as Gondry shows Common leading Mos Def and some of the other performers in prayer before the concert, and while he's gotten kind of annoying with his clothing ads and movie appearances and increasingly-misguided albums, it's clear there's a lot of goodwill among him and everyone else at the show. But right, right, basketball. How's this? Like Common getting his set cut from the film but still shown helping everyone else out, there are a pair of assistant coaches who probably should've gotten a look at a lead job this coming season - Mike Sanders and Randy Livingston. Both of them are considered up-and-coming coaches, with Sanders also having some head coaching experience in the CBA and time spent as an NBA assistant, but for now they're going to be helping their peers out. Sanders took a job as an assistant with Joey Meyer in Fort Wayne, and that strong staff combined with a fairly favorable schedule should make the Mad Ants a candidate for big improvement next year.
"Now how hot would it be if these kids got a chance to come through Bed-Stuy, beatin' them drums and playin' them horns, and the whole neighborhood is screamin', they sayin 'it's CSU!'"
Back to the marching band for a minute to recognize those D-League coaches who are taking it to the NBA next year, Bryan Gates and Robert Pack. Pack was an assistant in Rio Grande Valley last season who will be in the same gig for his hometown New Orleans Hornets this year. Gates was one of the most respected coaches in the D-League who helped develop a lot of good players and coaches, and who will be an assistant for the Sacramento Kings this year. Whether either of those guys convince their teams to use the D-League that they've largely ignored thus far remains to be seen, but we're hoping.
This is also a good way to transition to talking about players, because there are several players who spent significant time in the D-League last year but who have strong chances to make the NBA this year. Jawad Williams signed onto the Cleveland Cavaliers, who currently have only 13 players on the roster. They've signed several forwards this offseason in addition to Williams, so his roster spot isn't as assured as much as it was, say, pre-Leon Powe, but he's a good player and a friend of Mo Williams, and while he's been in this position with Cleveland before, and the Cavs have a history of signing a D-League guy, keeping him through preseason then cutting him five or so games into the regular season (this happened with Trey Johnson as well), this could be the year that Jawad Williams sticks in the league. The San Antonio Spurs have two such players, Marcus Williams and Malik Hairston, both of whom played extremely well for the Toros last year and who seem to have made their way onto the NBA roster. As I mentioned earlier, Williams wasn't on the Spurs' roster last year but played well enough and developed into a good enough point guard that they decided to sign him, while Hairston was a former Spurs draft pick (actually a Suns pick who was traded for Goran Dragic) who really just needed playing time and to work on his defense a little. The Spurs backcourt is actually fairly open beyond its three main players, and Manu Ginobili's back isn't getting any younger while Tony Parker has dealt with little injuries here and there for the past few seasons. Combine those with the fact that current backup point guard George Hill continues to be erratic, and both Williams and Hairston could expect to play solid roles for the Spurs this year. Now how hot would that be?
"Old people f-in love me, man. You know you must be doin' something right if old people like you."
Let's hear it for the NBA Draft. While this year's event had some interesting storylines - the group of guards may be stronger than previously thought, DeJuan Blair improbably (and probably disastrously for everyone else) falling to the Spurs in the second round, Ricky Rubio deciding to stay in Spain, but what the NBA Draft is about, what all sports drafts are about, is old people falling in love with young people.
"Where you goin'?"
"Somewhere in Brooklyn, we don't know."
From what I've gathered watching this movie a hundred times, the way they got people to come to the concert was announcing/leaking it on a few websites, telling people to show up at a bus depot somewhere in New York for the concert. From there they were taken to the show, but no one had an idea beforehand of where the actual concert was. That sort of sounds like someone, hang on...it's coming to me...
Jeremy Tyler everybody! Who one day decided/was convinced to go to Europe, but he didn't know where it would be. Would it be Greece? What about Spain? There are some pretty good French teams, what about those? How does Slovenia strike you? Tyler ended up in Israel, and best of luck to him, though as I've said before I have doubts as to how much development/playing time he'll get. he was bored playing high school ball, which is understandable, but I still need to be convinced that being a backup (or even third-string?) center in Europe is the best answer for that.
"It's good to see all these black people in college, you know what I'm saying?"
That quote comes from Wyclef Jean, who ends up talking to a group of the CSU students at some point and singing them his song "If I Was President." It's kind of a neat moment, because other than Kanye West watching the marching band perform "Jesus Walks" there isn't much interaction shown between the performers and the CSU students. There was a green room for the performers in the preschool on the block as well as a barbecue on the roof, and it looks like the Ohio contingent got to meet and mingle with some of the performers up there, but I don't know how many of the marching band members got to talk to the rappers and singers who performed.
Oh, and speaking of college, that's the route John Wall was told decided to take. He'll be at Kentucky next year, and he's already dunking on NBA players (however old they may be). I doubt Wall will be getting much of an education next year, but that's the de facto route for guys good enough to play in the NBA at age 18. I know David Stern would never go for this, and I've said this several times before, but the D-League can provide just as good a basketball education as college ball can, if not better.
"They was happy to see me doin' my work just like I was happy to see them doin' theirs."
This is the drum major who asked "compensation is what?" earlier in the film. He shows up a few times, and gives the impression that it was a positive experience for a lot of people in the band,who represent an HBCU in southwest Ohio. His quote above reminds me of Summer League, where several NBA players showed up to watch their younger teammates play. I know Antawn Jamison and Mike Miller were there, for instance,and there were others that I can't find references to right now. But the bottom line is, those guys didn't have to be there. Sure it was Las Vegas, but it was also the middle of summer when Nevada gets really hot. Any of those players could've been at home in the pool, or I don't know, somewhere else that wasn't sweltering. But they showed up to Summer League anyway, and that was nice to see.
"You want to see a rap concert I'm throwing?"
"It's in Brooklyn on Saturday."
"Sorry, I can't do that."
"I can get you on the bus."
"I'm going to Canada on a bus."
"Canada? You dodging the war?"
Chappelle's exchange with an older Ohio lady is one of the few indications in the movie that things are happening in the world. There are a lot of mentions of racial issues, with dead prez performing, Fred Hampton Jr. taking the stage and the mic during Mos Def's "Umi Says," ?uestlove talking about how their audience "doesn't look like us" and a few others, but in terms of "this movie took place in America in 2004," Chappelle's draft-dodging joke is about it. It's a small but significant sign that these events are taking place in a real environment, one that had gotten fairly tense in September, 2004, and which a rap concert in which everyone's having a good time seems to have alleviated just a little bit.
Reality is intruding into basketball this year. Nothing as dramatic as war, but a lot of the economic pressures that NBA owners are either facing or exploiting (and let's face it, there probably are some teams that are going to use the economic stuff as an excuse when they don't have to), and as such NBA roster spots are scarcer. More and more D-Leaguers are heading overseas to larger, if not steadier, paychecks and ride out the current storm. Hopefully they'll be able to return in another year or two and come back to the D-League and a climate more accepting of their talents and willing to take a chance on a guy whose name you may not know but who can play better than the guy you do.
Special Appearances by: Pharoahe Monch, Bilal Oliver
Guess what? Neither of these guys are in the movie. At all. Oh they were there at the concert - Bilal performed during Common's set that got cut, for instance, but I've watched this movie I don't know how many times and I can't find them. It's entirely possible that they're at the back of the stage or out of focus in one scene that I just haven't noticed, but while they performed at the concert, they got cut from the movie. Speaking of guys who got cut, both Mike Taylor and Sun Yue are looking for work right now. Two D-League success stories (real in Taylor's case, part of Dan Reed's dreams in Sun's). I'm not sure why the Clippers cut Taylor other than Mike Dunleavy didn't feel like giving him time/room to grow. Sun Yue's a long way from being an NBA player at this point, but some further development might do the trick.
"All these people, what we all have in common? I think we all have a very personal message that they try to get across, and it's about more than just making money."
Lance Allred has a pretty incredible life story, and he finally sat down and wrote about it. His book, Longshot: The Adventures of a Deaf Fundamentalist Mormon Kid and His Journey to the NBA came out a few months ago, and was reviewed by RU. The question gets raised periodically as to why players toil in the D-League making low (and in some cases very low)-five figures while they could make ten times that amount over in Europe. My answer is usually something along the lines of "they get more exposure and have a better chance of making the NBA," and while that's true, I don't think that always gets emphasized in the correct way. It's not just that by making the NBA they can earn enough to make up for all that time spent in snowy NoDak or hot-ass Texas. For a lot of kids growing up, playing in NBA is the dream, it's something that they think about every day because that's what they want to do. I haven't been fortunate enough to always know what I want to do with my life. Even now, when I think I've figured it out, most of my time is spent pretending I haven't because still, who knows?. Spending every day working to make the NBA every day and being willing to take an almost absurdly-low salary to do so takes love, and dedication, and an unshakeable belief in yourself and your abilities that's pretty admirable and is one of the great things about following the D-League. As Allred puts it in his book, "I do not care about the money, or the fame. I just want to say that I set an 'unreachable' goal and I made it."
"We shook up the world. We shook up the world!"
Our last quote goes to the D-League Select team, which finished 3-2 at the Vegas Summer League (and one of those losses was to a D-League-heavy Denver team, so that one's sort of a moral victory for the league) and impressed just about everyone who watched them. They're last win may have been the most impressive, where they beat Portland's team at the buzzer despite being down to seven players total and only one guard after injuries to Trey Johnson, Othyus Jeffers and Walker Russell. The Select team had five players shoot .500 or better over the course of Summer League and solidly out-rebounded and out-worked (that's a word, right?) their opponents. Unfortunately it hasn't translated into many NBA preseason invites and many of the players are going to be over in Europe next season (parallels to Chappelle stopping work on his show post-"Block Party" and leaving the spotlight?), but the fact remains that the D-League players, none of whom had gotten other Summer League invites, formed a team to be reckoned with and turned some heads in Vegas this year.
So there you have it: my summary of the D-League offseason so far. We still have a little over three months until the season tips off, and a lot can happen in that time. Who knows, maybe we'll come back and do this again. You like "Ghostbusters," right?