We all do it: lie to ourselves to make us feel better about our favorite team. This cognitive dissonance is most readily apparent with sports fans — especially the long-suffering kind. Perhaps it’s most egregious in basketball where only a handful of teams exist as title contenders and the winner of that group ultimately decides which franchise will be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy in June. But NBA fans (I include myself) continue to tell ourselves otherwise.
*** *** ***
10: “[Insert pundit of your choice] hates my team.”
First off, it’s amusing to think of how many NBA fans believe this actually matters. The NBA isn’t college basketball, where media chatter can impact seeding in the Big Dance. In the NBA — barring, possibly, a fight and subsequent suspensions in the playoffs — things are always settled on the court. Secondly, NBA pundits are some of the smartest in the sports world. Given time for him to write on Grantland, Bill Simmons is probably, absolutely right about your team [Eds. note: or not]. It might take 4,000 words to get there, and as someone whose Dime Mag columns probably annoy my editors for their length [Eds. note: nope], I’m with Bill on that one. But what most people will see is Simmons on TV. He’s good on TV. Part of the reason is that he’s willing to change his mind based on evidence, which is an unpardonable sin in today’s stubborn world. So you’ll be able to say Bill loves your team, and say he hates your team while providing YouTube clips to back you up for both. But many submit to an uncomfortable persecution complex when Simmons or any pundit is the slightest bit critical or cautious in dolling out phrase. To be fair, if any pundit explicitly says he hates your team, of course he hates your team: you hate your team, you hate your coach, you hate the GM and you probably hate where you live. That’s why ESPN has Magic Johnson there to make you feel better. TNT allows Charles Barkley to tell you how horrible you are. But ESPN won’t leave you high and dry. They’ve got Magic to make you feel better. And if Magic can’t make you feel about how awful your team is playing, you should probably go see someone.
9: “My fantasy team is awesome.”
NBA fantasy is unlike its counterparts in other major sports. In fantasy football, it’s all about your QB [Eds note: really?]. Baseball is all about your pitching. NBA fantasy has no key position, it’s all about hidden gems. Success depends on finding someone in the middle to late rounds who is on a horrible team and will put up ridiculous numbers because someone has to score points for [insert crappy team of your choice]. That takes time and luck. So while you may think that your underrated shooting guard is going to light it up, you’re probably wrong. Plus, nobody outside of your fantasy league really cares about your fantasy team, and that goes for all sports.
8: “Coach is the problem.”
In NCAA hoops, this is always true. Coaches are the stars. They recruit the players, they keep the money, they implement the offensive and defensive systems. The NBA is all about the players. If the coach can maintain a good relationship with quality players, the team will be successful. If the players aren’t talented, it doesn’t matter who the coach is, and if the players hate the coach, it doesn’t matter how talented they are. More likely than not, when the relationships break down in the NBA it isn’t because the coach is pulling a Greg Schiano.
In the NBA, it’s usually because the players are tired of listening to the same tired refrains with little to show in the win/loss column. Two exceptions that prove the rule: Brooklyn and Los Angeles. For the Nets, given that the team is in “WIN NOW” mode, it was a total head-scratcher to hire Jason Kidd as the new head coach just seconds after he hung up his sneakers with the Knicks. He could be great. He could be replaced by December. Either is possible. For the Lakers, Mike D’Antoni is a good coach, but he just isn’t a good fit for the personnel the Lakers are putting on the court. In both cases, these hires are more about management than D’Antoni or Kidd. But a bad fit is a bad fit. If D’Antoni finishes the year with this team, it’s likely because he’s made some spectacular adjustments to his style or because Lakers management doesn’t want to pay a second head coach millions of dollars not to coach the Lakers. If Kidd succeeds with the Nets, it’s because he learned the lesson of Larry Bird, hired strong assistants, and empowered his veteran leadership. Neither is a sure thing. As for the rest of the league, their success is all about how good a team management puts together and how good they are at soothing egos [Eds note: except Popovich, he's a BAWSE]