This is Epth Nation

Epth is a state of mind, not a place. Reading this will give you a virtual drivers license in that state, but you'll still need to be 21 to purchase alcohol. And you can't get any there anyway, so stop asking.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Baldness is a Personal Choice

Being bald is a lot like having to live through that one part of The Odyssey, the one with Scylla and Charybdis. If you don't remember those guys, I'm not surprised. It's a pretty grim part of the story, and like most normal people you probably blocked it out. I'm nuts, so I remember it way more than the Cyclops or the Sirens or Circe or the Mohicans or whatever else is in that book. It made an impression on me, I guess.

Ulysses (as the Book Club adaption called Odysseus) and his men come to the part of the sea that has a narrow passageway between the Scylla (a giant spider-like creature with 6 heads and a body consisting of barking dogs -- I'm not making this up) and the Charybdis (basically a whirlpool of death). They need to pass through this stretch, there's no getting around it. There is no possible plan B. Through numerous mythological twists and turns, they decide to avoid the Charybdis all together and sail on the far edge of the territory of Scylla. Why did they do this? It's quite simple, really. If the Scylla gets all up on them, a few of them die; but if they get stuck in the whirlpool of death, they all die. In the choice between horrible and more horrible, just plain horrible always wins.

Which brings us to baldness and men's* reactions to it, which can be divided thusly: Those who fight it and those who don't. And by "fight it" I don't mean, "try to conceal the fact that one's bald via head-shaving or strategic comb-overs." Rather, I'm talking about those people who would try to either a) grow their hair back, or b) glue/graft hair onto their heads in an effort to convince others that it's their own. I must confess, I don't really know exactly what scientific advancements have been made in the area of combating baldness. That should tell you what side of the great baldness devide I'm on.

Baldness and the fight against it is a real issue because of a little thing called, "our crappy superficial society." There are men in this world for whom baldness is emotionally crushing. I don't really know what the big deal is, but if I were to guess I would say that they probably don't feel as "sexy," "young," "virile," or "successful" as they would if they had hair, and every morning when they look in the mirror their ugly old impotent failure is staring them in the face. Again, I have to get outside myself to get into this mindset here, so I'm painting with a broad brush and maybe missing the finer points. This is not a baldness support group. Anyway, it's because of these daily mirror-trips among certain men with money that the science of baldness got into high gear. Men would pay top dollar for baldness treatments, and covert labs all over the world strove to find the One Cure that would reverse baldness and make these shallow men feel whole again. So far it has not been found (although we are getting ever-closer), causing many of these clearly-too-affluent men to throw that money into radical hair-grafting or significantly less radical wigs, the only methods available that have been proven effective in covering up bald heads.

And it's not just our society, either. In ancient Israel, the prophet Elisha was mocked as a "baldhead" by some hair-rich young ancient jerks. Of course, he called the wrath of God on them in the form of a bear, which massacred the kids and ate their bones. He did not, however, take the hair of the bear and make a toupee' with it. Such is the difference between ancient Israel and later, more civilized societies such as ours.

If you are a bald man, your preferred side of the fight/don't fight divide will decide what side you call "Scylla" and what side you call "Charybdis." That's not to say the issue is relative, however. There is a right and a wrong answer. In this case, the "Scylla" is equivalent to being bald and accepting that baldness, and "Charybdis" is the trap of reclaiming your youth with rugs or pills. I can hear the tools protesting now -- "But we need hair to feel like men!" "We can't be bald, people will make fun of us!" "You're just jealous of my money and importance!" Easy there, Vanderbilt. Just because you're superficial doesn't mean we have to be. And just because other people are jealous of your money doesn't mean you're not a tool.

Let me say that being bald (or, in my case, balding) is no walk in the park. You do look older and uglier. Women treat you like you're either invisible or part of the surroundings, like wood paneling. You never get to be the main character of the story, you are always in the background talking to some other bit player who's probably even less significant than yourself. If you ever do come out of the woodwork and get noticed, you're seen as old -- or worse, creepy. The best look you can hope to pull off is Well-Groomed, which is a far cry from handsome and not even in the same zip-code as attractive. But that's not the worst part. The worst part is, the "haired" people actually think they're better than you because they have hair. They pity the bald. Their pity is everywhere, from our entertainment to the boardroom to the restaurant to the head shop. You can't escape it. There is no plan B (besides, of course, the More Horrible Charybdis). Their scorn and pity is the 6-headed Scylla, and it will grab 6 of your mythical sailors and chomp them like 6 fat kids chomping McRibs. Nobody wants to deal with that.

(Side Note: Here's the thing about baldness: It gets better and easier to deal with as you get older, because most people go bald eventually. When you get to a certain age, the baldies outnumber the haired, and it's not such a big deal anymore. We young people don't like to think in terms of getting older, but it's an advantage to the bald man. Think of it as a race that the bald people are currently winning, but eventually all but the extremely toolish will catch up.)

Confronted with the barking dogs of Scylla, many hairless men steer clear of the pity and scorn altogether and conveniently forget there's another monster in this story, one that annihilates everything and leaves no survivors. The results of Charybdis' destruction are numerous and apparent to all: The old man with an ill-fitting purple toupee'; The Tobias Funke look-a-like with the bad hair-grafting that looks like the head of a doll; The news anchor with the impossibly coiffed fake hair that very nearly has more personality than the anchor himself; The owner of an NFL team who looks ridiculous in a hairpiece that was seemingly spontaneously generated from his own overblown ego; The guy on the commercial for Rogaine who's trying to sell his own insecurity to you before he sells you the supposed cure for it. We are all familiar with these poor men who have sold their soul to the devil and in return received the due penalty for that bargain -- they look stupid.

More common, however, is the young executive who looks at himself in the mirror one day and sees looking back at himself a man he doesn't recognize. He sees this man, and compares him to earlier pictures of himself. When the two persons do not match, he starts to freak out and ask horrible questions: "What will become of me and my bald head?" "Can a bald guy even get a promotion to Senior Exec in Charge of Downsizing?" "Will all those bald people who I made fun of start to make fun of me, or will I become one of them, blending in with the walls of my office and getting passed over for promotions because people think I'm just a desk lamp?" These questions are the clarion call of the monster Charybdis, and soon the young virile exec has decided that certain and expensive death by drowning is way better than a 1-in-50 chance of being eaten.

So they get a rug, or some plastic-surgical procedure, and everybody then knows that not only are they really and truly bald, they're also superficial and toolish enough to spend the money to cover it up. They are not more virile, they are not younger, and they live in constant fear of being discovered and outed as a closet bald person. Life is harrowing enough without having that in the back of your mind (or the top of your head, as it were) all the time.

Baldness is a genetic lottery, won by some and lost by others. It's unfair, but so is the fact that you're a Junior Exec and I'm writing this and not getting paid, so shut up. To all the bald people far and wide across this great hairless sphere, I have but one piece of advice: Accept baldness before it destroys you.

*I say "men's" because women's baldness is a whole other ball o' wax, and I don't feel that this Scylla-Charybdis analogy is adequate to cover the nuances of the issue. Men, however, I have down cold, as you'll soon see.

Retraction, Sort Of.

My post from today is already on the Blogger/Google Search Beta, and you can find it with "Andrew Bogut." In fact, it's #1 in the "sort by relevance" queue. Maybe I just need a way to put those keywords in quotes without destroying my text. There's gotta be an answer to this. I refuse to believe that the Google Blog Search Beta is just schizo. It's like the computer tests I take -- I knew there was a right way to study for them, but it didn't make sense until I found Transcender. That was the key. What is the key to higher search results? I have a feeling only the scummy spammers know the answer.

Mishmash of Stuff That Occurred to Me as I was Existing Last Night

"Try the extra crispy."
(joke copyright D. Letterman)

Is it just me, or is Phil Jackson looking more and more like Colonel Sanders? He came back to the NBA with a limp, so he now just looks like an old man out there. He's not the cool and in-control "Zen Master" anymore. He's just somebody's grandpa. Actually, he kinda looks like a stereotypical plantation owner. In any case, he should start wearing white 3-piece suits and holding a bucket of fried chicken. That would be awesome.

I've been trying to drive traffic to my blog via "Blog Search Engines." These little munchkins index blogs and allow you to search them by the words they contain. That's how it's supposed to work, anyway. I have been testing the two main blog search engines ( and Google Blog Search Beta) to see if my incredibly entertaining posts have shown up in their search results. When I post, I'm supposed to publish in such a format that these search engines notice. My findings have been deeply frustrating and yucko.

First, Icerocket. Now if I know Icerocket, Mark Cuban probably has them trolling the internet right now looking for bloggers who post the word "icerocket." I just posted it 3 times, so they'll probably e-mail me responding to this post. For that reason, I can't really rip them, even though I've got problems with their little search thingy. When I search for, say, "Andrew Bogut," in an attempt to find this thing I posted yesterday on my sports blog, it doesn't come up. I can search and search all day and never get it. Now, the post from the day before comes up, but not today's. This is curious, but I've got a theory as to why this is. I think the Icerocket people look over all posts from the domain looking for what they call "splogs" or spam blogs that just exist to advertise and have no actual human content. Mark Cuban has become so fed up by these splogs that he now has to pore over every post people make through Blogger to, just to make sure they're legit. This story is boring and I'm sorry for that, but what it means to me is that my posts now take 24 hours or more to show up on Icerocket, and by that time they're already obsolete and 4 pages down in the queue (it gives results by time posted, last posts first. In that way, it's very Biblical). This sucks. I guess I could solve this problem by "simulcasting" my blog posts to another domain, but I don't know if I'm going to do that yet. I don't even know if that will help. All I know is, there were a bunch of spare recaps of the Bucks/Nets game that showed up above mine, and that is not acceptable to me or the internet community, who clearly needs a good recap of last night's Bucks game with their afternoon sandwich.

Much more frustrating the problem presented to me by Google's, and therefore Blogger's, own search engine, Google Blog Search Beta (I'm not linking to it until they meet my demands). These are my "peeps," right? They wouldn't do me wrong! But they did. Here is a summary of what I found:
When I search for "Andrew Bogut" in the general blog listings by date, I cannot find my post. However, when I search for just "Bogut," it's there plain as day. The post says "Andrew Bogut" at least twice. That makes no sense, but that's not the really annoying part. What ticks me off is that you can do an advanced search for "Andrew Bogut" with the author "Mike Pape" and pull my post right up. What does this mean? They are filtering my posts out of the general blog listings for some search results but not for others. Not only does this hurt my exposure, it makes absolutely no sense. I realize that this is technically "beta," which means it's not ready for release yet, but with Icerocket delaying me a whole day I need Blogger to treat me well. I am a victim here, but I don't know who to blame. Therefore, I get to choose who to blame, and I pick the Trilateralists. Did you know their name means "people who go sideways in three directions"? I don't know what that means.

In other news, the NBA's Western Conference? Sucks. More on that and other stuff here.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

An Award-Winning Picture of My Dog

I really can't go wrong with this. She's just always cute.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

News and You, Nov. 2

How would you like to wake up in Russia to this guy's mug in your face?

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that Judge Alito, the man that Bush would have on the Supreme Court (since Harriet Miers isn't good enough, apparently), isn't the rigid conservative most conservatives think he is. Here's a quote from a "liberal" person named "Kate Pringle" (obviously a fake name):

Kate Pringle, a New York lawyer who worked last year on Sen. John F. Kerry's presidential campaign, describes herself as a left-leaning Democrat and a big fan of Alito's.
She worked for him as a law clerk in 1994, and said she was troubled by the initial reaction to his nomination. "He was not, in my personal experience, an ideologue. He pays attention to the facts of cases and applies the law in a careful way. He is conservative in that sense; his opinions don't demonstrate an ideological slant," she said.
So the religious right loses again, it seems. They want a vast and deadly paper trail detailing an opposition to abortion, just like the irreligious left wants a vast and deadly paper trail detailing his pledge of allegiance to Roe v. Wade. Here's another quote from some other windbag:
"I grew up in New York City, and I'm a political independent. But I liked Judge Alito because he was a judicial conservative, someone who believed in judicial restraint and was committed to textualism," he said. "His approach leads to conservative results in some cases and progressive results in other cases. In my opinion, he is a fantastic jurist and a good guy."
After investigation, it's going to be hard for the democrats to vote this guy down. Ha-ha.

That Sony CD you just bought comes complete with a virus that installs when you play it in your CD Drive, and is extremely difficult to uninstall. Not only that, but all sorts of crap could be theoretically hidden in that code. Is it any wonder why CD sales are down? We just can't trust the CD makers anymore. Why are they continuing to cultivate an adversarial relationship with their customers? I know I'm personally going to stay away from Sony CD's forever now. The virus isn't even in that EULA thing at the beginning that nobody reads! Evil Sony.

Those of us who thought that Jessica and Ashley Simpson were the same person, or at least shared the same body, have been proven wrong. They appear together on the cover of Teen People magazine this week. Yes, Jessica is 25 and Ashleeee is 21, but don't you worry about that now. Ashleeee's new album is named I Am Me, which makes me wonder something. How come all these horrible pop acts have to make a big deal out of the fact that they're their own unique person, when it's painfully clear their music sounds just like everybody else's? And how come these people always act so defiant of their critics, saying things like, "I am beautiful no matter what they say -- words can't bring me down," and, "I don't really care what people say," when their entire existence is defined by the fact that they're a celebrity? Without people talking about her, Ashleeeee would cease to exist. Of course she cares what people are saying! I Am Me might as well read, I Am the Me that's Designed to Sell the Most Records. Who are these people kidding? Teens. That's why they're being interviewed by Teen People and not a real magazine like, I don't know, Forbes or something. A relevant quote from Ashleeee:
However, she adds: “I love to sing. It’s a joy to me. I don’t do it for anyone else — I do it for me.
“I’ve had to learn that my voice is the most important one. Otherwise, I’ll drown in what everyone wants me to be.”

And that's why she sounds like everybody else, right? She has no voice -- figuratively or literally.

In other news, the CIA is holding people at secret facilities around the world. No word on whether or not Jack Bristow is involved, but this totally sounds like something he would come up with. They're even in eastern europe, so if he wanted to he could visit his wife on weekends. That is, if he could find her.

The last "Star Wars" film, entitled Revenge of the Sith, is bringing its CGI battles and unrealistic evil transformations to DVD this week. But don't buy that -- buy the Office Space "special edition" DVD instead! Gosh, how did this come out without me realizing it? Clearly I'm spending too much time working and not enough time trolling entertainment websites. Darn you, economy! Anyway, you know what's going at the top of my Netflix queue. I'll let you know if it's still funny.

Finally, The Milwaukee Bucks started their NBA Season off right by crushing the 76ers in overtime, 117-108. TJ Ford is awesome. I guess I should write something about it on my sports blog, eh? After all, that's what it's there for, right? Get off my lawn.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

"I don't want to read two blogs"

The title of this post is a quote from my wife, who informed me that my plan to reinvent my sports blog, Sports Ignorant, is stupid. She's wrong. I have renamed it, retooled it, and it will now serve all your sports needs. Look for updates over there on Tuesdays, and while you're there check out the cool banner at the top of the page that I made all by myself.


I have a bunch more Bucks haikus, but I'm going to post them over there to keep this blog from becoming "All-Bucks, All-The-Time," which would drive away most of the approx. 16 people a day that read this thing, if they're still around. Are you still around?

Yeah, Bucks season starts tonight. So what? This blog is about important things like Judge Ito being nominated for the Supreme Court -- that's the court, only with sour cream.

Maybe I should stick to sports.

Final Milwaukee Bucks Haiku: Sidney Moncrief

Sidney Moncrief

Super Sid flashing
Sports Illustrated cover
Greatest. Buck. Ever.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Milwaukee Bucks Haikus: Lew Alcindor

Lew Alcindor

Gave Milwaukee Bucks
Their only championship.
Stabbed his fans in back.

Milwaukee Bucks Haikus: Junior Bridgeman

Junior Bridgeman

“Would you like to buy my
Bacon Mushroom melt?” He asks
Underrated dude.

Miwaukee Bucks Haikus: Fred Roberts

This card is as small as Fred Roberts' game

Fred Roberts

Buzz Cut flat shooter
3 boards a game isn’t good
for seven-foot Fred.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Gerard Depardieu Reportedly Reported to be Ending His Film Career

There are a number of angles I could use to comment on this story. There's the "I didn't know he had a career after Green Card" angle. There's alse the fact that Yahoo! news is just regurgitating what another newspaper said and isn't even bothering to check whether or not it's true. Lastly, I could respond to the article the way I usually do, by yelling "Depardieu!" (pronounced di-pi-di, with short "i" sounds) at the top of my lungs.

NBA Western Conference Preview, Finally


This is an interesting place, this Western Conference. All the Free-Agent moves from last year and the injuries/comebacks of this year has made it almost impossible to predict what will happen, as some teams will mesh and others will fall apart over the course of the season. That won’t stop me or any of the other sports idiots out there from making predictions, though. Failing’s half the fun.

The biggest questions by far in the NBA relate to Unstoppable Offensive Force Amare Stoudamire and the Phoenix Suns – Will he come back from his injury this year? If so, when? Can the rest of the team win enough games early to get them a playoff spot? If they do make the playoffs, can they contend like they did last year? Nobody knows, but my suspicion is that the answers are: probably, at the end of the year, yes, and it depends on what you mean by contend. But I’m just a guy eating carrots and getting his sports information from the internet, so don’t go by what I say.

In the West there are: 1 great team, 3 near-great teams, 2 good teams, 7 ok teams, and 2 bad teams. These are their stories (dun-dun).


15)New Orleans/Oklahoma City/Parts Unknown “Hornets”
Do they have Hornets in Oklahoma City? Nobody knows. Anyway, after their trade of Jamaal Magloire for the Bucks’ Desmond Mason, they have no frontcourt players to speak of. If they started their 5 best players, they would have a starting lineup with Chris Paul, Speedy Claxton, JR Smith, Desmond Mason, and PJ Brown, with Chris Andersen dunking off the bench. That team would get outrebounded by 20 a game and lose 140-120 most nights. They’ve got a good nucleus of small players, and if they can add some bigs later they might have a future. That doesn’t help the people of Oklahoma City, however, who will see their only experience ever with NBA basketball end in a 20-win season and mocking derision from the rest of the league. But hey, they’ll probably score a lot of points. They would have won 10 more had they kept the moosey Magloire.

14) Portland Trail Blazers
Here’s the problem with Portland: They’re best player, PF Zack Randolph, hates everyone and everything, and would seemingly be content to be an average player who makes a lot of money and doesn’t show up for player meetings. He is your classic head case. On top of that, he’s a ball hog who doesn’t play well with others. I picked them to finish high last year based upon his raw talent, but he just spent the year getting high instead. If they weren’t paying Zach all that money, they’d do better to start Pryzbilla and Theo Ratliff. But since they’re committed to rebuilding around the big lug, they need one of their 20 guards and wing players (Jack, Blake, Dixon, Miles, Telfair, that little Webster guy, etc.) to make the leap to greatness this year. None of them will, and Randolph will cause the team to implode despite the best efforts of Nate McMillan, who is already wondering what was so bad about Seattle anyway.


13) Los Angeles Clippers
I’ll admit it: I totally forgot Sam Cassell was on this team. Their starting five of Cassell, Cut Mobley, Corey “overrated” Maggetteee, Elton Brand, and Chris Kaman can compete night-in night-out with most teams. Teams like this make it impossible to pick the West. Cassell, as always, is the most important guy. If he goes after a 17-point 9-assist season, the Clips could surprise everyone and make the playoffs. If he goes after a 20-point 6-assist, season, they might lose 50 games. I’m picking closer to the latter, because there’s just a cloud of…something over this team that prevents them from ever pulling off a sustained rebuilding project. Ok, it’s not “something,” it’s owner Donald Sterling’s cheapness. 13th place is what he gets for trying to rebuild around that muscle-bound Duke schizo Maggetteee. And I don’t think a bench that features something named Zeijko Rebraca, raw Shaun Livingston, forever spare Chris Wilcox, and this generation’s Brad Lohaus (Walter McCarty) will help them, either.

12) Golden State Warriors
The sexy surprise pick for the playoffs this year, the GS Warriors are in many ways a bundle of run-and-gun goodness. Baron Davis is a fantastic point guard who knows how to run a team, Jason Richardson can run all day, and Troy Murphy can offend inside. I’m a non-believer in Mike Dunleavy, Jr. and Adonal Foyle, however, and Derek Fisher is pretty much done without Kobe around to make him look adequate. So they’ve got one great player and two good players, and then…I don’t know. If their rookies can contribute and they find someone to clog the middle at all, they could sneak into the playoffs if other teams have injuries. Otherwise, I just don’t see it. I think their great finish last season was a fluke. And if Baron Davis goes down again, yikes. 10 wins, tops.

11) Los Angeles Lakers
What? Too low? Phil Jackson is going to lead them back to the L.A. facelift promised land? Kobe’s going to rediscover superstardom and passing? Lamar Odom’s going to morph into Scottie Pippen? The triangle offense is going to turn players like Chris Mihm and Smush Parker into adequate NBA starters? Devean George is going to finally be cut, because he’s terrible? Kwame Brown’s going to turn into a good player because the Wizards were just “keeping his great talent down?” Am I crazy? Kobe’s the next Jordan – how can he finish 11th? Well, they did last year, and the only thing that’s changed from then to now is the coach, Mr. Jackson. Actually, the talent pool has gotten more shallow with the departure of Caron Butler and Sucky Atkins and the addition of Kwame “The Cancer” Brown. Kwame hated playing with Jordan – how’s he going to like playing with Kobe? They’re probably going to start a guy named Smush at point guard. What, God Shammgod wasn’t available? This team won’t even make the playoffs if Kobe does rediscover superstardom and passing.

10) Minnesota Timberwolves
Remember a few years ago, when Minnesota kept finishing 5th in the West and never making it past the first round because they didn’t have enough talent to go with Kevin Garnett? Yeah, Minnesotans will discover that those years weren’t so bad after all. The gambit they took to bring in Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell has failed. They were the best team in the West for exactly one year, got injured during the playoffs, and choked themselves to death the next year. Now Sprewell and Cassell are gone, and the Garnett-aires are made up of many of the same guys who were there before this whole mess started. The injury-prone Troy Hudson and Wally Sczerbiak will provide needed help if available, but other than those two you’re talking about a bunch of spares and failed bits from other teams. One intriguing player they picked up in the draft is Rashard McCants, the best player on the NCAA Champ North Carolina team of a year ago. For some reason, I think he’ll make a bad pro. There’s just something about him that just isn’t right. I’ll probably live to regret writing those last two sentences. Anyway, as competitive as K. Gar the Horrible is, he’s got to be just pulling his hair out right now. That’s why he’s always bald.

9) Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz picked Deron Williams from Illinois with the 3rd pick in the NBA Draft, which is odd. Chris Paul is clearly the more dynamic and talented player, so why did they decide to take the solid but unspectacular Williams? Nobody knows. What people do know, however, is that the 2nd best forward tandem in the West (Andrei Kirilenko and Carlos “The Alky” Boozer )is back from injury and that makes the Jazz a way better team than they were last year. It’s hard to explain the greatness of Kirilenko to people who don’t know basketball. When he’s not sitting on the bench in an NBA-approved outfit, he’s the most well-rounded player in the league. Around the Forwards of Fun are a bunch of white and near-white guys who are ok role players. It’s odd that the lily-white denizens of Salt Lake City would have a basketball team with so many white guys, isn’t it? Somebody should investigate this. I pick them 9th because of the presence of The Alky, who so wronged the Cavaliers last year that the basketball gods may not let the Jazz make the playoffs again until he’s dead or off the team. I bet he learned how to be a two-timing jerkface at Duke, where bearded mountain man “Christian” Laettner teaches a class in such things.

8) Memphis Grizzlies
The ‘Sleaze seem to be on the verge of falling apart(at least that what the Coastal media says), but we all need to slow down a bit and remember who their GM is before we put them in the basketball casket and start shoveling basketball dirt on it. It’s Jerry West, who is a genius. Look at their roster for a second. You’ll see they still have Pau “Put Some Corn in Your Tank” Gasol, Shane Battier, Brian Cardinal, and Mike Miller. You’ll also see they have added Bobby Jackson, Damon Stoudamire, Lorenzen Wright, Eddie Jones, and talented rookie Hakim Warrick from Syracuse. They are once again loaded – it’s up to Mike Fratello to make it all work. I see them being talented but a little soft, and they should be able to reproduce what they’ve done the last couple of years but no more. Time will tell if Jerry West can bring a title to the Elvis area. In fact, I just heard time say, “Not this year, but they will make the playoffs again.”

THE ?????? TEAM
7) Phoenix Suns
Nobody could have anticipated the rocket-like rise of the Phoenix Suns last year or the MVP season of Steve Nash. He and Amare Stoudamire became Stockton/Malone II: This time, the big guy’s actually not overrated. It was amazing. Stoudamire’s preseason injury casts a huge shadow over the entire NBA, and every good team will feel uneasy until he’s either back or they know he will never be back. But that’s not the only guy they lost – in fact, they lost more of their 7-man rotation than they retained this summer. The only guys left who played significant minutes for the Suns last year are Nash, Shawn Marion, and Jimmy Jackson. In Stoudamire’s place stands Kurt Thomas, a decent forward who exactly ½ as good. He’ll have to hold down the offensive fort until Stoudamire comes back, which could be anywhere from 4 months to never. It’s a crazy situation, but I’m picking them to make the playoffs because I believe in Nash and Marion, and it’s not like the teams behind them are breathing down their neck. Plus, the Lakers and the Timberwolves probably have worse supporting casts, and they don’t have any basketball messiahs coming. All I know is, if Amare’s all the way back in June, nobody’s going to want to face these guys in the first round of the playoffs.


6) Sacramento Kings
The Kings are a lot like the ‘Sleaze in that they’re a talented and deep team with no superstar to define them. Chris Webber is gone, and with him his inability to rise to the moment. Unfortunately, they brought Shareef Abdur-Rahim in to replace Webber, and with him his inability to play on a good team. They pursued Shareef after he failed a physical for the Nets, so the guy could keel over at any moment. Mike Bibby, however, is great and clutch, and if Peja regains his prior form they will once again be in the thick of the playoff race. The starters will probably be Bibby, Bonzi Wells, Peja, Shareef, and Brad Miller. All of those dudes are solid. The Maloof brothers will be pleased. The bench has Corliss Williamson, Brian Skinner, and a rookie I like --“Bring Me the Head of” Francisco Garcia. They have no depth at guard, which will prevent them from being a real Western power. Sorry, Maloof brothers.

5) Seattle Supersonics
You may not realize it, but the Seattle Supersonics were actually the third-best team in the West last year. No, for real. And the only people they lost between then and now were a pair of workmanlike but ultimately fat power forwards who are easily replaced. I mean, the Knicks signed one of them, so how good can he really be? Mikki Moore, Danny “Mean Guy” Fortson, and Nick Collison should be able to do what Seattle needs them to do, namely hit people, rebound, and stay out of the way of the talented players on the team. Ray Allen is always magnificent, and Rashard Lewis is a nice partner in crime for him. Kobe-Odom only wish they were this good. Flip Murray, Luke Ridenour, and Vlad “The Impaler” Radmanovitch should also provide enough offensive help to keep this team rolling this year, at least until they meet the 4 better teams in the conference. My only concern is the coaching situation, as they forced out a superior coach for no apparent reason. That’s the kind of basketball sin that rarely goes unpunished, so I’m picking them 5th with a doubting heart.


4) Denver Nuggets
They’re the number 4 team in the West, but they plan on starting Voshon Lenard at shooting guard. Not only that, but also they have 3 good point guards who are definitely too small to play shooting guard. The magnificent frontcourt of Carmelo Anthony (primed to make a leap to absolute superstardom, I think), Kenyon Martin (who will be playing mad this year because his college coach was fired, I think), Marcus Camby, the big Brazilian Maybner “Nene” Hilario (I refuse to just call him Nene when I can bust out Maybner Hilario as well), and oft-injured Eduardo Najera can only do so much with Voshon and the Midgets doing their thing in the backcourt. And watch out – this is a George Karl-coached team that had some success last year, so you never know when they’re going to just blow up and start hating him. That is, unless Mr. Karl learned not to be a big jerk from his stint in Milwaukee, something I highly doubt. Once a big jerk, always a big jerk. Seriously, though – with the volatile Martin, the young Anthony and the lack of a shooting guard, Denver could totally fall apart. I’m not going to actually predict that, though.

3) Houston Rockets
In Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, they now have the best inside-outside combination in the league. Their pick-and-rolls are awesome, mostly because they’re both so tall and skilled, it makes you wonder how anyone is going to stop them, ever. Somehow, the two teams above them will find a way. They added to their ranks PF Stromile Swift, an athletic guy who’s also “long.” This might be the longest team in NBA history, in fact. All they need now is Tim Thomas and Paul Pressey, and they’ll be all set. Swift’s presence ensures that Ryan Bowen won’t play, which is also awesome. They traded for a real NBA starting point guard (albeit a crazy one) when they traded for Rafer “The Wafer”Alston. They’re talent is almost super-talent, but here’s my one concern: toughness. They may be long, and athletic, and skilled, but are they tough enough to take this thing all the way to the title? I mean, none of the guys I mentioned have a rep for being able to deal with adversity – especially Rafer the Wafer. It will be fun to watch them try this year, but ultimately San Antonio is just too good and too deep.

2) Dallas Mavericks
Sometimes you have to go with your gut, and that’s what I’m doing with this pick. Here are Dallas’ problems: Their point guard (Jason Terry)is actually a shooting guard and everybody knows it, they’re trying to get Dirk (Nowitski)to be a post-up player when everybody knows he’s better suited to the wing, their Center has hands of stone and therefore nobody passes him the ball, they’re defense is only sporadically good. So what’s my problem that I see these guys as being better than Denver or Houston? First of all, Dirk is an MVP candidate, and he’s developed some impressive moves the past couple of years that nobody can stop. Of course, he stopped himself with his own incompetence during the playoffs, but don’t worry about that. He and Josh Howard comprise the best forward tandem in the league. Jason Terry and The Jerry Stackmouse comprise one of the best backcourts in the West. Dampier and the newly-thin Lasagna Diop aren’t that great, but they’re a better center tandem than any teams in the West save Yao in Houston. Shaq is no longer in the conference, people. Plus, they’ve got a deeper bench (Wauwatosa’s own Devin Harris, defensive specialist Doug Christie, Diop, Keith Van Horn, and Marquis “Feaky Eyes” Daniels) than anyone in the conference save San Antonio. Still think they won’t finish second? Well, if Avery Johnson can coach (and we know he can talk a good game), they will.


1) San Antonio Spurs
It would be hard for any basketball person with eyes to deny the Spurs their preseason #1 ranking. I mean, they won it all last year (albeit in seven games against a Detroit team that wasn’t really trying), and didn’t lose anyone meaningful over the off-season. More importantly, they got some serious firepower off their bench when Michael Finley and Nick Van Exel decided they wanted to win a championship with San Antonio, too. I’m afraid that probably will happen. Parker and Ginobili are foreign, quick, and freaky with the basketball in a good way. Tim Duncan is a superstar because he’s so fundamentally sound, and will probably get over that whole mental free-throw thing this year. Bruce Bowen is the ultimate defensive stopper, and makes clutch threes to boot. Oh, and the problematic center position got better as well with the addition of Nazr “Nozzie” Mohammad. Their defense is sound, their offense is better than you think, and they seem to have those championship intangibles that everybody talks about. They’re a practical shoo-in for the title. But if Duncan gets hurt, it’s all over. Just remember that. Plus, their championship attitude goes away during the playoffs sometimes for no apparent reason. But if they play like they can, there’s nobody that can beat them.

1 San Antonio over 8 Memphis
7 Phoenix over 2 Denver
3 Seattle over 6 Sacramento
4 Dallas over 5 Houston

San Antonio over Dallas
Phoenix over Seattle

San Antonio over Phoenix

San Antonio over Detroit, again.