Here's the thing you have to understand about the ClipperWidow. She likes basketball. She really does. She dated basketball players in high school and in college. She understands the game really well. She just HATES how much I like basketball. Of course, this all started before I had a blog. So this season figures to put heretofore unknown strains on the marriage. So we've got that going for us.
She tries to hide her basketball savvy, but every once in awhile it shows up. Way back in 1990 (I was a recovering Suns fan, having just moved from Phoenix to the LBC), I was watching ESPN and found out that the Suns had traded Eddie Johnson (the nice one, not the pedophile) to Seattle for Xavier McDaniel. I loved EJ, and turned to CW to tell her the sad news. She replied, "Well, you knew it was going to happen `cuz he wasn't getting any minutes." Apparently she'd been reading box scores behind my back.
The point is, she's smart and she gets stuff. So during the playoffs last season, as I was singing the praises of Sam Cassell, she said to me "You're such a homer. If you weren't a Clippers fan, you would HATE Sam Cassell. All his talking and flopping - you hate that stuff!"
Was it true? Well, I should be able to answer the question simply by examining how I felt about Cassell during his 12 NBA seasons when he wasn't wearing red and blue. But I really didn't see him play enough in that time to have a strong opinion about him. I mean, in his first two seasons, coming off the bench in Houston helping them win rings, you just had to love the guy. Here was an unknown rookie (Bob Sura was the FSU guard everyone knew about, not Sam Cassell) making big shots and smiling ear to ear. Then he bounced around to so many teams, most of the time in the Eastern Conference, and I'd watch him for a couple of games in the playoffs each year.
I've said it before - Sam Cassell is one of the most underrated and underpaid players in the history of the NBA. Just from playing fantasy hoops, I knew he put up numbers. Plus, no matter where he went, the team made the playoffs - it never made any sense that he kept getting traded, and never signed that big contract. In Feb of 02, Sam signed an extension for 3/$18M. By contrast, Damon Stoudamire signed for 7/$81M in 1999, Mike Bibby signed for 7/$80M in August of 02 and Stephon Marbury for 4/$76M in October of 03. Hell, even Jason Williams signed for 6/$43M in October 01.
When he was with Minnesota, Sam absolutely killed the Clippers. Just as he does today, he would take over late and make pull-up J after pull-up J, and there seemed to be nothing you could do to stop him, even though he's not that quick and he's not that big. He just scores. I still have nightmares about the overtime loss in December 2004 - and that was during Cassell's bad year in Minny.
So, at any rate, I don't remember hating Cassell before he came to LA, other than for what he did to beat the Clippers. But CW is usually right about this stuff, so I have to consider it.
The chirping - Sam's a talker, there's no question about it. But unlike, say, Gary Payton, Sam is such a cheerful talker, it has an entirely different feel. Payton's always got some sort of gangsta scowl on his face when he's talking. I had the surreal experience of watching a Nike exhibition in Paris in 1997, and Payton and others were playing a group of French pros. I'm in the front row, and I could hear every bit of the non-stop smack that GP was throwing at some French teenager who probably didn't even understand most of it. IN AN EXHIBITION! Cassell's talk is not like that. I'm sure it's almost as annoying to his opponents, but from the crowd, it seems good-natured. And we've got evidence that Sam's behaviour is not mean-spirited - with the new 'zero-tolerance' technical policy, Sam has yet to get T'd up, despite having something to say to the refs on almost every call. Clearly he's pleasantly explaining his point of view, not questioning the sexual histories of their mothers.
The flopping - This one's a little harder to explain away. Lots of great older players, particularly point guards, use every advantage they can. John Stockton would set the nastiest (moving) screen to level a power forward under the basket, and then go flying at the slightest bump. When Cassell steps in front of a big in the backcourt and draws a foul, that's just smart basketball. It helps get key opponents in foul trouble, and gets the Clippers cheap points from the line. When he pump fakes, and then leans in to the defender to draw a shooting foul, that's a great play. Lots of players try that, but nobody sells it like Sam. But he can get carried away. When he's dribbling, and gets a little bump, he likes to fall down to get the ref's attention and force him to call something. But every once in awhile the ref says "Nope" and it turns into a turnover. It almost cost the Denver game last week. Would I hate this aspect of Sam's game if he weren't a Clipper? Undoubtedly.
But I would still love the rest of his game. Sam knows basketball, and I love that. And it's always fun to watch a guy who is successful because of how he plays, not because of how tall he is or how quick he is or how high he jumps. Sam is probably the least athletic player in the league. He has not dunked in an NBA game in a decade. What better hero for a schlubby, 5'9" NBA blog-potato?