NBA / Apr 24, 2009 / 6:14 pm

The Honeymoon is Over

Greg Oden (photo. Mannion)

Greg Oden (photo. Mannion)

Forget that the nearby Blazers — led by hometown product Brandon Roy and “Mr. Sonic” Nate McMillan — are in the playoffs. Without the actual Sonics around and a distinct drop in general interest in the NBA in Seattle, the biggest sports stories in my city right now are the NFL Draft, and Ken Griffey Jr. coming back to the Mariners.

Ten years since we last had him, Junior is still The Man out here. His jersey flies off shelves at the team shop, and when he steps to the plate at Safeco Field, the crowd goes nuts. Just one problem: Junior’s been playing like ass. He’s hitting .171 with nine K’s and two homers. I went to the M’s/Tigers game last Sunday, and Griffey was awful, going 0-for-4 while failing to get a ball out of the infield. Nobody expected to get 1999 Griffey (dude is 39 years old), but to date, it’s been ugly. So far, though, the fans haven’t seemed to notice too much. The M’s sit atop of the AL West, and Griffey has provided some memorable moments already on the young season, so it’s all good for now.

But any day, I know the honeymoon has to end. If Griffey keeps playing like this, eventually the strikeouts with two men on and the weak grounders won’t get that collective, “Aww, too bad, maybe next time” reaction you give to Little Leaguers. Eventually the fans will start booing, and the papers will start running the “What’s wrong with Junior?” columns. People will start to expect some return on their investment.

I bring this up because in these NBA playoffs, there are a few guys for which, if the honeymoon isn’t already over, the cruise ship is approaching the dock. Production is expected from them, and if they don’t deliver now, next season the crowds won’t be so forgiving.

GREG ODEN“So here we are; another summer of anticipation in front of Oden and those of us who are impatiently waiting to see if this kid is really the truth. … Eventually, the excuses will be gone and we’ll see if the super-hyped mystery kid was worth it.”

I wrote that last summer, and we’re still in the excuses phase with Oden. And while I don’t disagree with the “Just have him focus on defense and rebounding and not try to do too much” strategy, I don’t think anybody was saying that when David Robinson and Shaq first came along. And I also don’t think those two would have been still backing up Joel Przybilla at the end of their rookie seasons.

Injuries aside (he missed 21 games this year), when Oden has played he’s been a magnet for refs’ whistles. In 61 regular-season games, he had five-plus fouls in 23 of them, and that doesn’t include fouling out in Game 2 of Portland’s series against Houston. He’s had some standout games — 24 points and 15 boards against Milwaukee, 17 and 12 with six blocks against New York — but his development is still behind the curve, especially when you see that ’07 Draft classmates Kevin Durant and Al Horford are leaving Oden in the dust.

You can write this year off to recovering from microfracture surgery and simply being a rookie, but next year expectations will be greater than the 8.9 points, 7.0 boards and 1.1 blocks Oden produced this year. Even if the ceiling has dropped from “next Bill Russell,” G.O. can at least be a little more like Nene.

BYRON SCOTT — Yeah, he just won Coach of the Year in ’08, but ask Sam Mitchell how much job security that gets you. Don’t be surprised if Scott’s name starts popping up on those “Coaches on the Hot Seat” lists sooner than you’d think.

Last year, when nobody expected the Hornets to make too much noise, Scott was playing with house money. He knew what he had in Chris Paul and David West and a healthy Tyson Chandler; it just surprised everyone else when they took the No. 2 seed in the West and gave the Spurs all they could handle in the playoffs.

This year, the expectations changed. While the Hornets (49 wins) were only seven games worse than last year (56 wins), their 7th-place finish was a drop from the Top-4 finish many predicted. And with James Posey expected to put them over the top as a real championship contender, the fact that they appear headed for a first-round sweep doesn’t help that perception of underachievement.

Not that Scott’s job is in imminent danger, but if the Hornets take another step back next year, albeit even a small one, Scott will start to look like a coach who’s losing his players. And if the front office truly thinks they have the right roster in place (superstar CP, All-Star D-West, title-certified Posey), one of those “change of direction” press conferences won’t be too far off.

RASHEED WALLACE — It’s safe to say that the “Rasheed can be one of the best players in the League if he wants to be” campaign is dead and gone.

Wallace’s numbers actually haven’t dipped much at all: His 12.1 points, 7.4 boards, 1.3 blocks and 35 percent three-point shooting this season was right in line with what he’s been doing the last few years. But his elite performances have been few and far between. He’s done nothing since the All-Star break, and isn’t really a threat anyone game-plans for anymore. If you’re playing the Pistons right now, you’re worried about Rip, Tayshaun, and maybe Rodney Stuckey. That’s it.

The on-court antics and technicals were acceptable when Detroit was championship-caliber and Chauncey was around to somewhat reign ‘Sheed in, but now it just hurts a team that doesn’t need extra help giving games away. With ‘Sheed being a free agent this summer, who will want him? No doubt he’ll want to go to a contender, but which ones can afford to take on all that comes with him?

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  • hog

    Seattle Sounders FC!

  • http://hornetshype.com ticktock6

    Speaking as a Hornets fan, I wouldn’t mind a change of direction. Look at how other successful teams have built, and then look at the Hornets bench. The glaring difference? Where’s the YOUTH? Byron Scott has shown an inability to work with young players — Brandon Bass, JR Smith, and now Julian Wright is heading down the same path. The team didn’t even draft last year, preferring to go the cheap 32-yr-old scrubs route. Byron LOVES these guys. He likes that vets do what he tells them to do. He likes role players.

    But. It’s screwed the team for the future. CP needs to be next to young guys who can run.

  • zcw

    Yeah I’m sick of hearing about Rasheed and his potential to change the game, if they mean reach in fouls and bitching at the refs that he’s at superstar level. But to be honest I think he would be a good fit as a robert horry type, just come off the bench shoot a three and towel wave for the other forty minutes

  • K Dizzle

    Who woulda thought that Jannero Pargo givin CP3 a rest once in a while during last season was so valuable to the Hornets?

  • foolio_iglesias

    No regular double-teaming,no superstar status….

  • Flying_Aussie_Dutchman

    Good article, Austin… As a Piston fan, I wouldn’t mmind letting go of ‘Sheed. He’ll probably end up in Cleveland or something

  • QQ

    Wow. I have not posted here in about a week, nursing duty is a bitch. I’m finally back, assholes!

    Things I learned today:

    1. Great article. When Oden was drafted, people were saying that in a year, he will show potential that he will be the most complete big man skills wise since Duncan. It’s been a year now, and the only potential Oden is showing that he can be the best big man in FOULING OUT ever.

    But since this is an article about disappointments… WHERE THE FUCK IS TMAC?

    2. Orlando…….. Damn. We are playing like a bunch of bitch asses right now, it’s not even funny. But, still gotta represent my squad, no matter what.

  • Roby21

    Wallace should go to the CELTS!
    freaking epic win lol

  • MoxEASTcoastRep

    @AB- nice articles today, man. Just landed in Boston and read them- good stuff.
    Just curious, why does jerry Sloan get a lifetime honeymoon? I mean, ya he went to the finals a few times and always has the Jazz in contention, but come on!!! They’re about to get bounced in the first round after getting the 8 seed- maybe they need to switch it up. Look at mike shannahan: 2 super bowl wins and they showed him the door. I don’t know and don’t really care, but the guy is oooold school. There are some good young coaches who could make an impact

  • jackass

    @ moxeastcoast wow you blew my mind. that’s so damn true. maybe it’s time for sloan

  • A$$Cube aka Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeed

    Too bad Orlando don’t have much more money to spend, because Sheed would fit in nicely at the four in SVG’s system. Plus, his personality might bring better things outta Dwight who’s not really “leading/commanding” his team. Plus, Sheed could help spread the floor and he would LOVE this.

  • QQ

    @ 11;

    No, thanks.

  • heckler

    the world has been cheated out of Ken Griffey Jr. due to injury, we missed out on one of the greatest sports talents ever. His early seasons in Seattle were some of the best ever for any ball player.

    I think we (as the public) were only cheated more with Bo Jackson. Bo Jackson (outside of Jackie Rob) was the greatest pure athlete ever. And many of us missed out on watching him because of injury.

    as for basketball, rasheed wallace was NEVER anything close to having the potential as one of the best. i am a fan of sheed (minus the techs), but lets face it, he never proved to want to be great. just sheed.

  • http://www.uneedathink.wordpress.com uneeda

    Is GreGoden aware that he has legs?

    First he blows he knees out getting off the couch. then his ankles give out the first game of his next season, then he cannot stay in control of his movements and racks more fouls than Napolean’s chicken farm; then he wraps legs with one of the most durable and dominant defenders over the last eighteen years and ends King Deke’s career…

    The self-actualization box has not been checked.

  • Celts Fan

    The wrong blazer is on this list. Oden’s a rookie coming off injuries. It takes big guys a while sometimes (he’s clearly not as far along as you’d like, but he’s still a rook and has shown some flashes between the epidemic fouling sprees.).

    What’s LaMarcus aldrige’s excuse??? Dudes been jacking 20. Footers all series and playing like shit. For a “borderline allstar” dude is crapping his pants all series. Get on the block and play like you got a fuckin pair.

    I’m not a fan of Byron scott, but he lost his 6th man (pargo) which was one of those “you don’t realize it, but this is a HUGE loss” type moves, then they SOLD their 1st rounder this year! Not byron’s fault…

  • TJ

    Listen, I agree that GO has been disappointing and was hyped up too much. I’m not sure I would go so far as to say that Horford’s 11 and 9 is leaving GO’s 8 and 7 in the dust. I think most sane people would rather have Oden than Horford.

  • QQ

    @ 15:

    Aldridge is playing like shit in the playoffs, but I think this article is for those ‘honeymoon’ players where they get all the free pass because of certain reasons (injuries, age, etc), but will eventually face the reality that they just did not accomplish what they are hyped to be. LaMarcus is a high draft pick, but he didn’t have the tremendous hype that other players generated. He was considered a very good player, but not a great one. And what he has done these past two seasons (except these playoffs) REALLY exceeded the expectations people had for him. He is clearly ahead of the curve. Compare this to a certain Blazer who was hyped to be the next >insert Hall of Famer center<, but is instead playing like Kwame Brown and is fouling the shit out of everybody, I think Lamarcus doesn’t deserve yet to be called out.

  • Blazermark

    dude, you must not have had anything to write about…. Seattle better get a team soon. Articles like this just kill me. I would give Oden some slack. He may take two full seasons to develop. He really just needs to learn how to not foul and stay on the floor long enough for good things to happen.

  • http://www.myspace.com/beenobrown BERN BROGDEN

    SLOAN gets a free pass because of a confluence of things that happened in his career…

    …but mainly it’s because of MJ.

    He’s a coaches’ coach, a player’s player. And a player’s coach.

    He has a good team now. He’s developing young talent. His team is USUALLY a playoff team. And his “new” young team almost made it to the Finals a couple of years ago…if it wasn’t for a POP/TIMMY/TP/MANU.

    He KEEPS IT REAL in his interviews. No cookie cutter statements.

    He has MAD WINS, MAD PLAYOFF APPEARANCES, MAD 50-WIN SEASONS. He’s MAD!

    He treats all players the same, from the stars to the pine riders, according to Mo Williams (He once ripped into AK47 in front of the team, that’s when he WAS the franchise)

    He’s a former ALL STAR player.

    He lost his wife a couple of years back. That was really sad. So, we know he’s been through some personal/emotional turmoil yet he persevered.

    Growing up, I remember Stock and Mailman as actually the faces of a VERY good team. They were always in the CONFERENCE FINALS it seemed. But that’s where they would lose to a KEMP/PAYTON…or a HAKEEM…or a CLYDE THE GLYDE led squad.

    *And MIND YOU, this was when the league WAS NOT WATERED DOWN (ie – If Mugsy pulled off a lay up in traffic, without hittin’ the deck, he earned an APPLAUSE)

    And when they did beat a BARKLEY’D HOUSTON or a SHAQ and company…they had to face a JORDAN.

    And that’s why he ultimately gets a free pass.

    We understand why he didn’t get those championships.
    We know very well. Just like every other team that’s faced the Bulls in the 90s.

  • Matt

    I wish you idiots would just leave Greg alone. He’s great for a rookie center, he has a lot to work on, but generally he does what he’s asked. Most of the fouls are his fault, but he is also the first to get a call when someone goes to the basket and he is around, regardless of if he was the one who committed the foul.

    He had some great dunks on Yao last night, and to see him crack a little smile while running up the court afterward made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. If he keeps improving like he has, in two or three years he’ll dominate the paint.

    You are the people who started all the hype about a guy who has been injured his whole career, and only played one season of college ball. Then you rag on him because he didn’t come out and play like a vet. Give me a break.

    I love having Greg on our team, and I think he’s going to have a great future.

  • Celts Fan

    @QQ – I know what you’re saying, but LA was the 4th pick in the draft (you better have high expectatipons for someone picked 4th!) and a borderline Allstar. He earned his hype by his reg season play, which makes the post-season no-show that much more surprising. It’s not at Hedo levels, but it’s close…

  • http://henpantha.wordpress.com/ nathan

    I am fairly recent to the seattle area myself having fled jobless Detroit. Sadly, Portland is the only team out here I care about without the Sonics around. Totally agree with you on the Griffey thing. I went to all three Tiger games and wasn’t shocked but was still kinda surprised by the fans blind eye towards his abilities. He had one solid hit on Friday but otherwise Griffey was awful. Friday night he had one of the worst and slowest swings I have ever seen.

    A Sounders game would be fun to attend, but I want local NBA.

    Oden will amount to very little. Look at how slow he already moves. Imagine three more years and a few more leg injuries and he will be more immobile than Yao without any offensive game.

  • Baby Huey

    I really hope after all of these articles, you guys will be able to man up 2 years from now with the “I was wrong, Oden is a beast” articles that will need to be written. I’m afraid we will only hear from guys who say “I was always behind Oden and knew he would be great”. If I’m wrong, I will say so, but I hope you all will do the same.