Summer Reruns

You want a piece o' me, Gonzalez?

It's vacation time. Has to be done. The heat here is unbearable, and the sports aren't much better--a good time to flee Dallas. A chance to get my head right, a little calm before things pick up. By the time you read this, I'll be sunning myself on the beaches of South Jersey and watching the gray-green water wash half-empty syringes onto the shore (and wondering, too, if they're filled with the good stuff).

Make no mistake, I'm going to need the break, if only to prepare myself for the only season anyone cares about around here: football. Following my vacation, the bosses are shipping me off for a week of Dallas Cowboys training camp in San Antonio. Which means I'll soon be beaten with the same mundane, pointless questions that will all sound something like, Uh, who's the starting quarterback today, Tuna? (The answer: Does it matter?) I'm hoping a few of my journo peers realize this, skip the news conferences and head straight to the bar. The prospect of spending that much time with those people makes me (and my liver) shudder. Yes, some rest and relaxation are certainly in order.

In the meantime, my faithful readers, you'll have to make do without my weekly dose of wit and humor. I'm sure all three of you are inconsolable.

To hold you over, I offer this brief midsummer appraisal of the sporting landscape; my last effort to address the other three teams before immersing myself, and you, in copious Cowboys copy. Hooray.

A warning for all of you who see those tiring public service announcements as nothing more than propaganda: Drugs actually do slow your reaction time. It's true. Unfortunately.

I know this because I was sitting at home recently, anesthetized by a handful of prescription painkillers and muscle relaxers--feeling pleasantly loopy--when I got the news. Still, it took me a good 10 seconds to leap from my couch and thrust my fists into the air. The Philadelphia 76ers, my boyhood heroes, had traded Keith Van Horn.

I won't recap the entire trade for you, because it involved four teams; it was mighty complicated to follow, particularly for someone so pleasantly loopy. All you need to know is that Van Horn, a stiff who makes Shawn Bradley look accomplished, was shipped off for Glenn Robinson and Marc Jackson. Some might contend the Sixers didn't upgrade much with that trade, if at all. On this end, I was just happy to see them make a move, because trades, at least in my native Philadelphia, where there hasn't been a championship of any kind in 20 years, are tantamount to hope.

That's when I started thinking about Dallas, my adopted home. It's never good news when the Sixers, a club notorious for its slooowww-moving off-seasons, have made more trades and inked more players (they re-signed Kenny Thomas) than your team. You remember your team, the Dallas Mavericks--an all-star cast of offensive players who screamed to 60 wins and their first Western Conference Finals appearance since 1988. Since then? Since then they've been awfully quiet. Meanwhile, the rest of the conference somehow gets better--the Lakers added Gary Payton and Karl Malone, the Spurs added Radoslav Nesterovic, Hedo Turkoglu and Robert Horry, the Kings added big bad Brad Miller and the T-Wolves added everyone else. So, worried?

"Someone over there should be worried," one NBA Western Conference scout told me. "If I were them, I'd be wondering if my window of opportunity closed. They have a good team, sure, but everyone in our conference has a good team, and the biggest, baddest team improved. Then Sac is getting Webber back, Portland has a bunch of studs and Minnesota added some really good players. That's a lot of competition for a team that, you know, has some questions in terms of defense and interior play. They're good enough to win it all, sure, but I'd be a little less confident today than I was last season at this point."

The Mavs' rebuttal? Typical in terms of content, if not temperament.

"We are in the same position we find ourselves every summer," owner Mark Cuban says via e-mail. "Everyone complains about what we didn't do, yet the players work hard to improve, and Nellie and Donnie and staff find a way to make us better. We are always going to be opportunistic and do what we can to improve the team, whether through free agency or by trade. Remember, the goal is to make ourselves heard in the standings; we don't care if we are heard or not during the off-season."

Maybe, but I'd like to see them shuffle their deck, anyway, just to prove they're awake and concerned. But what do I know? I'm still reeling from Cuban's reply. That e-mail conversation was the first we've had in more than a year in which one of us didn't begin with a line like, "You're an asshole."

I don't really dig on the Doors; mostly I listen to hip-hop. Nor am I a hockey fan--always struck me as soccer on ice. Whenever I get another e-mail update from the Stars, though, I can't help but hear Jim Morrison croon "The End." That's what we're witnessing here, the slow and painful death of a once-proud organization.

It's no secret that owner Tom Hicks has begun minding his wallet, but his newfound fiscal responsibility will cost you a good deal of entertainment, not to mention any chance of seeing the Cup in these parts in the near future. Since the season ended, Darryl Sydor and Derian Hatcher have both departed. This will likely be the new trend, a rash of moves before the impending 2004 lockout that will leave the Stars with a smaller bankroll, but also less talent. Could be that they're saving up to re-sign Mike Modano, whose contract is up after this coming season. But don't be shocked, either, if he skips down to someplace with a brighter future.

If that happens, you can simply forget about hockey for a while. If that happens, you'll hear the music also, though it'll sound a lot more like "Taps."

I long ago decided that there's nothing good about Arlington or its baseball team. If I were a true Texan, I'd demand that the Rangers secede from the state. Which is why I can't understand why Juan Gonzalez dragged his feet on any of the trades that, months ago, would have shipped him from the very embodiment of Player Hell to someplace more accommodating and playoff friendly. The only possible explanation here is that Gonzalez is a sadist or a fool. Had it been me, I would have ridden a llama out of town if it would have guaranteed my deliverance. But that's just me. Maybe he doesn't like llamas.

Either way, the Rangers' future was once again arrested because of Gonzalez. When GM John Hart started trading players like Ugie Urbina and Carl Everett, everyone in baseball understood what was happening--the Rangers were making a concerted effort to build around young guns like Mark Teixeira and Hank Blalock and Michael Young. Everyone understood that the only vet they really wanted to keep was A-Rod. Everyone got it, that is, except for Gonzalez.

His postponement of the inevitable may have done more damage to an already busted ballclub. But that's OK. The Rangers have nothing but time. They've already hit bottom, so they have nowhere to go but up. As for the Stars and Mavs, I'm not so sure.

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