This year’s X-Factor team: The Houston Rockets.
Okay, that’s not new news. Ever since the Rockets traded Bobby Jackson and Donte Greene for Ron Artest, they’ve inherited the title of “NBA LIVE-trade fueled paper team that has the talent to be very scary next year.” Sometimes these teams do well (see: the Celtics), sometimes they don’t live up to expectations (see: the AI/Melo Nuggets), and sometimes they become a horrifying abomination that actually who makes everyone that watches them worse at basketball through sheer osmosis. (See: the Knicks).
However, Houston’s questions aren’t about their logjam at the swingman position. (Although, now that I mention it, I must say: Tracy McGrady is 57th of the 67 listed shooting guards in scoring efficiency, but according to stats guru Daryl Morey is the best-passing non-point guard of any player in the NBA. Instead of making Artest an undersized 4, why not go with T-Mac running point, Battier and Artest as the swingmen, and keep Landry/Scola at the 4? With Yao anchoring the offense, it’s not like T-Mac’s relative lack of speed is going to be what’s stopping fast breaks. And do you like Skip better as a pace-changing scoring guard coming off the bench or a guy who can consistently run the point for 82 games?).
No, the concerns with Houston’s Frankenhoop crew go past the on-court issue and focus on a more basic problem: their big new addition is Ron Artest, and Ron Artest is a crazy person. Now, when your team gets a new player, “crazy” is not the first thing you want to hear about him. But there are worse things for a player to be than crazy. Hell, if movies like Fight Club, Eternal Sunshine, or Garden State have taught us anything, it’s that hooking up with someone who’s completely bonkers can be the best thing ever to happen to you.
Here are a few teams on the cusp of contendership who added a dash of crazy in the past, and what happened to them:
1995-96: The Bulls Trade for Dennis Rodman
Rodman, one of the best rebounders of all-time, a member of the “Bad Boy” Pistons, had worn out his welcome in San Antonio, his second NBA stop, by questioning his coach and David Robinson and messing around with Madonna. Jerry Krause, never shy about making splashy moves even if his team was winning, needed only to give up Will Perdue and some cash in order to acquire Rodman’s services.
So, Just How Crazy Was He?
Off the top of my head, Dennis Rodman:
• Got suspended for kicking a cameraman as hard as he could
• Spent a significant amount of time wrestling as a heel under the name “Rodzilla,” at one point fighting Karl Malone and Diamond Dalla
• Page in a tag-team match
• Headbutted a referee
• At one point early in his career, was found sleeping in his truck with a loaded shotgun; some thought he was considering suicide
• Was infamous for profanity-laced tirades during live interviews
• His hair, his pin-cushion face
• Married Carmen Electra
• Did a publicity tour for his book, often in a wedding dress
• 12 years before nobody really cared that John Amiechi was gay, Rodman frequented drag bars and would openly make out with some of the drag queens, and told Sports Illustrated he identified as bisexual and nobody really cared.
• Attempted a movie career, including a movie in which he co-starred with Dane Cook
• While on the Bulls, the 12th man on the roster was someone who never suited up but was a friend of Rodman’s whose sole responsibility was to make sure he didn’t snap
So yeah, Rodman wasn’t quite Tim Duncan. It’s debatable how crazy he really was and how much of it was an act to get attention or stay relevant, but if you define “character issues” as “time and energy spent on things that take away from basketball,” Rodman’s at the top of the heap.
The Honeymoon Period:
Rodman ended up being the final piece for the legendary mid-90s 3-peat Bulls teams, both in terms of filling their holes at power forward and providing the interior toughness and rebounding that Luc Longley utterly failed to provide, and in turning what had been a team with somewhat frosty vibrations into an all-out opus to dominant insanity. In a locker room that was quickly becoming consumed by a vendetta with renowned sociopath GM Jerry Krause, which nearly led to Scottie Pippen leaving the team, Rodman somehow worked.
With Jordan splitting time between trying to get retribution against Krause and being the same pathological competitor that Kwame Brown would later come to know, Pippen getting drunk and cursing Krause out on the team bus, Toni Kukoc shrinking under the pressure of being Krause’s pet and thus Phil Jackson’s whipping boy, and Steve Kerr and Luc Longley content to stay the hell out of everyone’s way, Rodman fit right in. There are two basic things that have defined Rodman throughout his career: He doesn’t care about anybody other than himself (he just doesn’t have the time, when you think about it), and he goes all-out every time he steps on the floor. On the Bulls, that meant he didn’t get caught up in politics and just set out to win basketball games. When Rodman’s spirit was mixed with Jordan’s legendary need to win and Jackson’s ability to manage a team’s psyche, the Bulls somehow became a dynasty instead of imploding unto themselves.
The Inevitable Conclusion:
Fairly quiet, as Rodman left along with Jordan, Pippen, and Phil Jackson, an exodus prompted more by the corrosive state of the front office’s relation with the team than anything Rodman did to create a negative environment. Rodman on the Bulls was sort of like Omar on the 1st season of The Wire: dangerous and insane as all hell, but somehow not in a way detrimental to the well-being of the community. Look for that quote in Houston’s media guide next year.
2004: The Pistons Trade For Rasheed Wallace
So, Just How Crazy Was He?
As it often is, tough to appraise. Rasheed’s leadership talents seem to swing with the tide, with Rasheed often being the emotional leader of teams that things are going well for and the chief cause of concern on teams who aren’t getting it done on the floor. Legally, Rasheed had one marijuana possession arrest, but has done more than enough exemplary work in the community. More than anything, Rasheed Wallace really, really, really hates referees. He’s one of the most proficient accumulators of technical fouls in league history, was suspended for 7 games for threatening Tim Donaghy in a loading dock outside the arena, and can always be counted on to voice his displeasure with how the game was being called.
In any case, it got to the point where he was the face of the infamous “jail blazer” teams of the early millennium and was given, in a rare double fire sale, from the Hawks to the Pistons for the combined bounty of Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Theo Ratliff, Dan Dickau, Chucky Atkins, Lindsay Hunter, and Bobby Sura.
Joey Dumars looked at his Pistons team made up of some solid veterans and the consensus 2nd-best talent in one of the all-time great drafts and made a fateful realization: that Darko Milicic sucked. Like, really sucked, and he wasn’t about to wait for him. So instead of keeping his fingers crossed that Darko would someday become a shot-blocker with post moves, the ability to run the floor, and an outside touch, he decided to mortgage his future and get Rasheed Wallace right now. The result? The Pistons got the edge they lacked, the law firm of Wallace and Wallace became one of the better defensive tandems the league has seen, The Pistons won the Championship, ‘Sheed bought everyone championship belts, and Detroit would be an Eastern-conference power for the next 4 years, going to the finals again and the conference finals twice more.
The Inevitable Conclusion:
‘Sheed hasn’t caused any significant chemistry problems in the locker room, even imbuing a sort of Bad Boys Mk. II-esqe swag into them for a period of time, but he’s still no friend of the men in white and black, and more disturbingly, his propensity to talk a big game and then shrink in big moments seems to have followed him to Detroit. When he was expected to become a franchise player in Portland, he quit on the team. Rather than become the 20+ point scorer he was projected to be with his incredible size, agility, and touch in the low post early in his career, he’s become a complimentary spot-up shooter and defense man.
Most disturbingly, he’s had unforgivable brain farts in two crucial game 5s: his inexplicable decision to double off Robert Horry in the NBA Finals and his abandoning of the paint in the Eastern Conference Finals as LeBron James soared in for layup after layup. (And in the subsequent clincher of that series, Rasheed got himself ejected for the final minutes as well as the potential game 7.) And now that the Pistons’ time as a championship contender seems to be coming to an end, it appears, unsurprisingly, that Rasheed is the first one looking to jump ship.
2007: The Warriors Trade For Stephen Jackson
So, How Crazy Is He?
Dude seems to have an anger issue. He’s been convicted multiple times for misdemeanor assault, recklessness, and battery, and, of course, there was his role in the Palace Brawl. Two people went into the stands: Artest and Jax. Here were their sets of circumstances:
Artest: “Okay, it’s a close game with our rivals in their house and this crowd has been giving it to me all night. Ben Wallace just tried to shove me into the upper deck. Every single nerve in my body is firing right now. I’m just going to lie down on this table and…WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?”
Jax: “Hey, a fight!”
But Jackson has always been diligent about doing community service, getting extremely involved and winning the NBA’s community assist award while in Golden State, and his virtues as a teammate have been extolled by nearly every one of his former coaches. Much of Jackson’s negative reputation as a “locker room cancer” extended from having questionable extra-curricular activities and being associated with the extremely negative clash of personalities on the Artest-O’Neal Pacer teams.
Stephen Jackson completely changed the culture and saved basketball in one of the best basketball cities on the planet, taking a previously dead Warrior team (Don Nelson had issued a public apology for failing to reach the playoffs already) into the playoffs for the first time in 13 years and playing an instrumental part in one of the great upsets in basketball history, defending multiple positions, causing mismatches, making plays, and reminding everyone that he makes love to pressure. Named a captain of the team, and after Baron Davis and Matt Barnes left, is now the sole captain of the Warriors. Folk hero in the Bay Area.
The Inevitable Conclusion:
An incident in which Jackson ended up firing his gun outside of a strip club, every element of which is very tough to spin in a positive light, got Jackson suspended for the first 6 games of the season. The Warriors lost all 6 of those games and ended up missing the playoffs by only 2 games, although the incident did end up with Captain Jack getting this tattoo.
1999/2004: The Knicks and Timberwolves get Latrell Sprewell
So, How Crazy Was He?:
Choked his coach. Choked his coach. Chocked his coach. This led to a year-long suspension, the rock bottom of basketball in the Bay Area, and P.J. Carlesimo looking considerably more mellowed out whenever the Sonics take a long jumper with 20 seconds left on the shot clock than he used to be. Um, he choked his coach.
Sprewell led the Knicks to their most recent run at glory with a stretch of inspired play that got the Knicks to the 1999 NBA finals, and in Minnesota helped KG win his only playoff series in Minnesota.
The Inevitable Conclusion:
Spree’s insanity actually ended up helping out the Timberwolves in the end; infamously stating that a 3-year, $21 million extension was insufficient to “feed his family,” Spree went out and had a god-awful contract year and was unceremoniously and happily dumped by the now-rebuilding Timberwolves. In the end, hopping on board with a “crazy” player can have all sorts of benefits. It’s just you seldom know what they’re going to be.