Michael Cella

STAND UP COMEDIAN | WRITER

CRUISE CONTROL • COMEDIAN NICK SWARDSON BRINGS HIS LATEST TOUR TO SACRAMENTO

**This interview first appeared in Submerge Magazine on pages 18 – 19 of issue #262 (March 26 – April 9, 2018)**

Nick Swardson has spent more than half of his life in Hollywood. He began his comedy career at 18 and was discovered shortly thereafter, thrusting him headlong into a world of scriptwriting, film and TV appearances, and national tours. Watch any of his work, and it’s readily apparent—he’s been that 18-year-old kid from Minnesota the whole time.

When Grandma’s Boy (which Swardson co-wrote and starred in) hit theaters in 2006, I was 18, and the competitive outlets du jour included Halo and Texas Hold’em. Inevitably, whoever won anything in my comedy-loving yet highly derivative group of friends would launch into Swardson’s faux-innocent taunt: “What does high score mean? New high score—is that bad? What does that mean? Did I break it?”

I’d bow low enough to nostalgia to call Grandma’s Boy a cult classic. So when I Googled it for a little catch-up, I was surprised to find that Rotten Tomatoes, which didn’t even exist in 2006, had retroactively rated it a paltry 16 percent. I’m not sure how Grandma’s Boy’s approval rating is less than half that of our current president’s, but I’d guess it has something to do with the fact that no movie critic has ever been a teenager.

While critics bemoaned fart jokes, Swardson countered by naming one of his stand-up specials Seriously, Who Farted?—half-asking and half-saying, “Yeah, it was me.” Swardson brought that same boyish mix of exuberance and mischievousness to all his roles, whether as a fixture in Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison film family, or as Terry, the roller-skating gigolo in Reno 911.

Just past the north side of 40, Swardson finds himself still a fan of his hometown Minnesota sports teams, still starstruck by other celebrities and still ready for the road, though maybe a little more comfortably this time.

We recently interrupted each other’s March Madness enjoyment to catch up on his career.

How’s it going?
It’s good man! College basketball’s on, so I’m happy. It’s my favorite time of year.

Me too! I just had to mute Kansas and Clemson when you called.
Yeah, I’m a psychotic sports fan, and my Vikings this year just completely blew my head off.

Oh, well, you might not want to finish this interview, I’m an Eagles fan [the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the Minnesota Vikings in this year’s NFC Championship game].
Oh my God … Well, a lot of my good friends are from Philly so it’s OK.

The Eagles and Vikings both have a pretty tortured history.
Yeah, I mean, I was happy for you guys. You fought through the shit.

I know. And had the Vikings won, we would have 100 percent been rooting for them in the Super Bowl.
That Saints game was insane. Craziest thing I’ve ever seen. I was at my hotel while I was doing shows in Colorado, and that play happened at the end of the game, and I fell to my knees at the hotel bar and started sobbing. Everyone was staring at me, and I was literally just sobbing. They were like “Oh my God, are you OK?” I’m like, “I’m a Vikings fan!” They’re like, “Oh OK, we thought you were having a fucking heart attack.”

So, you’re about to start your “Too Many Smells” tour … 
Yeah, and I’ll be doing the Crest Theatre, which I love. I did it on my last tour and had a blast.

Such a great building. When did you first play Sacramento?
The Crest is great, I love Sac. I used to do Punch Line back in the day when I was starting out. I drove from Minnesota when I was 19 and doing stand-up across the country, and I drove straight to the Sacramento Punch Line. I was MCing and they didn’t have money to put me up, so I had to sleep in my car. So I just slept in my car every fucking night.

You could have slept in the mattress store next door.
Yeah, right? I was opening for Kevin James. And it’s weird, it’s kind of come full circle. Now, Kevin’s a close friend and I’ve done a ton of movies with him. Recently I asked him, do you remember when I slept in my car?

That’s become the norm now. Clubs don’t really put up features and MCs at all anymore.
No, not at all. I mean, I bring my whole show, so I bring my opening acts, so, you know, I pay for everything. And I make sure they sleep in their car.

Did you meet Adam Sandler through Kevin James?
No, Sandler saw my special [on Comedy Central Presents] and he wrote my name down and was like, “I like this guy.” And he had this movie Grandma’s Boy, and he brought me in to meet with him and was like, “Will you rewrite this movie? You can write yourself a part. It’s kind of PG right now and we want it to be a hard R.” And I was a writer, so I was like, “Yeah, I’ll do that.” So I rewrote it, and now it’s Grandma’s Boy.

That movie hit me at the perfect time in my life.
I love that movie.

What movies are you working on now?
I just finished The Buddy Games with Josh Duhamel, Dax Shepard and Olivia Munn that’s awaiting a release date. I’m developing another movie with the director of Grandma’s Boy. And a new TV show. But right now I just gotta get through this fucking tour.

When was the last time you were actively doing stand-up?
I did a gnarly tour three years ago for my last special that was called Taste It, it’s on Comedy Central. And I did 55 cities on a bus. And I remember I was super excited because I’d never done a tour bus. So I called my agent and told him, “Keep adding cities. Let’s do this!” And I got on the tour bus with my buddy who was opening for me, and we got a week into the tour. And I was like, “This was a horrible idea.” And we were a week into a three-month tour. I didn’t realize on a tour bus you can’t really sleep because it’s really loud, especially in the back where my bed was. So I’m completely sleep deprived, and I remember I was just terrified that the driver was going to fall asleep and kill everyone. It was just a complete anxiety attack. Me and my buddies got bottles of wine and would just chug wine until we passed out. So I’m not doing a tour bus this time.

Do you feel like you’ll always continue to do stand-up?
I’ll try. I’ve been in Hollywood for 20 years and developed a million TV shows, a million movies, and you always have executives and people telling you what to do, telling you what’s funny. Trying to control the project, giving you notes, making you rewrite stuff. And stand-up’s the only thing that you control. I control that, I control what I say, I control what I do. Nobody can tell me what to do when I go on stage. Nobody can go, “Don’t do that.” I’ll be like, “Fuck you, I can do whatever the fuck I want.” That control factor is just priceless.

You got into stand-up at 18. How soon after that did you know it was what you wanted to do?
I knew right away. The first time I did an open mic I got off stage and was like, “Holy shit.” It’s such a rush. It takes a toll on you, because it’s such a weird thing. It’s not natural for your body to do that. Even at this time, I’ve done it 21 years now, and it’s exhausting. It really takes a lot out of you. All the travel, trying to eat healthy, have energy for the show, dealing with tickets, everyone’s asking you for tickets, dealing with lists, the tour manager. Oh my God.

The physical toll of comedy is something that’s not often talked about. 
It’s all eating healthy and getting sleep. People think [because of my character] that I just go out and rage. You have to dial it down when you turn 40.

I saw you tell a drinking story on This Is Not Happening.
I was also shitfaced when I was telling the story.

Do you usually drink before you perform?
Not really, maybe a couple at the most. You have to be a professional. I do remember one time, I was at the Hollywood Improv, and I was just drinking at the bar. I didn’t have a set that night, but I used to drink there all the time. And whoever was running the show came over to me and goes, “Hey, the headliner just canceled. Will you go on?” And I was like, “No, I’m shitfaced.” And they were like, “Well, we really need you to go on.” And I’m like “No, I’m in a blackout.” And he says, “You’d really be doing us a favor.” And I’m like, “Alright, fine.” So I got a napkin, I wrote my jokes down. I go up on stage. The second I got on stage, I realized, I should NOT be on stage. I was REALLY drunk. So I tell the first joke, totally butchered it. Try to tell it again. Butcher it again. And then I just go, “I’m too fucking drunk.” And I dropped the mic and walked off and I got a standing ovation.

Do you have a favorite Sacramento story?
This is one of my favorite moments. We’re on a press tour for the movie Just Go With It. Me, Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston. We’re in Dallas. Sandler plays a lot of basketball. So [Dallas Mavericks owner] Mark Cuban goes, “Hey do you wanna play in our practice facility?” Sandler says yeah. So we show up, and Peja Stojakovic, who used to be on the Kings, is one of my favorite players. I loved that Kings team. I loved J-Will [Jason Williams], all those guys. So we’re standing there and Peja is doing shooting practice. So Mark Cuban’s like, “Hey, just wait a minute, Peja’s almost done.” So we’re waiting and then Peja sees us and walks over, and he goes, “Hey, Sandler, I’m a huge fan, pleasure to meet you.” And he turns to me, and he goes “Hey, what’s going on?” And I literally went into a weird brain fart because I was so excited because I fucking love that guy. Sandler goes, “This is my friend.” And I go, “My name’s Peja.” And he goes, “Your name’s Peja too?” And I go, “No. What? No. Sorry. My name’s Nick.”

He was probably so excited to finally meet another Peja.
And I was just starstruck.

Nick Swardson’s stand-up tour, Too Many Smells, will be at the Crest Theatre (1013 K St.) on April 29. You can buy tickets at Crestsacramento.com.

STARTING FROM SCRATCH • VETERAN ARTIST MICHAEL STEVENS FINDS ADVENTURE IN EACH NEW PIECE HE CREATES

 

**This piece first appeared in Submerge Magazine on page 24 – 25 of issue #263 (April 9 – 23, 2018)**

Michael Stevens had not yet arrived at JayJay Gallery when I walked in. This gave me a few minutes to take in one of his pieces, which took up the wall to the right of the entry. A wooden marionette with a puppet’s painted head stood on a wooden pedestal, a disembodied hand protruding from the platform palms-out as if giving the “stop” command, behind the puppet a wooden chopping block with a knife stuck in it. On the wall behind, a background of seven dwarf-faced likenesses arranged clockwise served as oil canvases for various scenes. They represented the seven deadly sins, Stevens would later explain, and the piece was meant to symbolize the act of confession.

Stevens counts his lapsed Catholicism among his many influences, which also include, but are not limited to, Alfred Hitchcock, 1950s television programming, and toys. His diverse inspirations mirror his manner of speaking; Stevens bounced from thought to thought as we talked, finding something interesting in every direction.

Stevens considers himself a storyteller, each piece its own short story. After more than six decades in Sacramento, Stevens had yet to run out of stories to tell as we walked through the gallery.

 

Incident at Beaver Falls | 2008 | 18 in. x 35 in. x 8.5 in.

Ready to talk?
I talk a lot. I teach at Sac City.

How long have you considered yourself an artist?
My first show was in San Francisco in ‘77. Then in ‘78 I did a show in New York, and one of our friends had gone to New York already and met Andy Warhol. So Suzanne and I actually had lunch with him [Andy Warhol] on our first trip New York.

Suzanne is your wife?
Yes. We had been doing art since I got my master’s degree in ‘69, and graduated with an art degree in ‘67. We were doing these large shows in a candy store up in Folsom. Adeliza McHugh ran the candy store. The first 10 years she was showing local work from the Sacramento State professors like Jack Ogden and Irving Marcus. After that she kind of picked up on the Davis stuff when she got Bob Arneson and Roy De Forest. Then after that, the Chicago Hairy Who people moved to town in ‘68, and she started showing Jim Nutt and Gladys Nilsson. So she kept on pushing. When Jim and Gladys and Suzanne and I became really good friends, he [Jim Nutt] bought work out of my graduate show. And he’s a very famous artist, probably the most famous Chicago artist right now. Jim’s pushing 80 and his work goes for $100,000 a pop. We started doing shows at the candy store. My career then really started when Rena Bransten from the Bransten Gallery in San Francisco came up to one of the openings and said, “You need to be in San Francisco. I want you to bring in work.” I ignored her. I got a phone call a month later saying, “Where in the hell are you?” So I packed up some work and showed her the work and did a show with her, and sold a lot of work. People from Chicago came—Betsy Rosenfield, Allan Frumkin—and I started showing in Chicago. From Chicago I went to L.A. Then to Denver. So I’ve traveled around for a long time.

Where did you get your art degree?
Sac State.

So you were born in Sacramento?
No, I was born in Gilroy. Raised in Hayward. Had no choice in it. Then we moved here in ‘55.

We just finished a show in Chico, the new Northern California Museum, which has been open about eight months. I did 14 pieces for that. And I’m working on public art, too. I’m doing a big bronze in September for Sutter Park.

You’ve been in Sacramento more than 60 years. How have you seen the art community change in that time?
Now Irving Marcus is finally getting his just desserts by having a show at the Shrem Museum. And Irv is in his late 80s. The Sacramento crews that I’ve seen come in here, some are marketers. Some new younger artists who live down at the WAL seem to … How should I put it? A lot of hype? The skills are lacking in a lot of the young people that I see.

Quincy Jones said the same type of thing in an interview recently, about younger musicians no longer having the same skills and fundamentals. Do you think it’s a generational thing?
It’s like the [younger] generation invented sex. I don’t see the passion, I see the hype. Some of these guys are marketers. They dress up real nice with suits and ties and nice clothes. I can’t mention their names, I don’t want to be sued. But I’m aware of them, I’ve seen them, I know who they are.

You mentioned your friend Jim selling pieces for $100,000 each. How do you value your own work?
You work in a vacuum, and I find the vacuum a very comfortable place. Pricing of artwork is really strange. I’ll take work into San Francisco and they raise the prices $2,000. I’ll take work into Los Angeles and they lower it $2,000. It all depends on the market. My concern is, am I duplicating myself as an artist?

Why puppets?
I grew up in the 1950s watching television. So puppets and ventriloquial figures were part of the things that talked at you. People think I find these heads [already painted] so I brought a head to show you. They come like this [unpainted]. And I carve most of my heads. I’ll cut the neck off, take the mouths out, finish the whole thing. And I paint with Rustoleum. Which nobody does, I don’t think. And it can paint on anything—glass, metal, ceramic, wood.

It does look like you have fun making these.
I do, and it irritates my wife.

But I get political, too. In my work I have the good and the bad. I was a Catholic. I’m really partial to the Northern Renaissance, the old paintings where they used halos and stuff. And I had to have nuns for teachers back in the days when they were really strict and whipped you. I got whipped for painting the side of the church.

What have some of your students gone on to do?
Well, I had Craig Chaquico from Jefferson Starship in my filmmaking class.

Are you hands-on or hands-off as a teacher?
I’m more of a hands-on guy. I actually demonstrate and show expectations. At City College I teach assemblage, and we did an assemblage show. I would take two classes and send them out to junk stores just to buy stuff. Take a whole week buying junk. And they had better come in with buckets of junk. Once they did, they would then get to swap the materials and make pieces. Then I could give them assignments. Say the assignment was to deconstruct a chair. You take the chair apart, but you have to use each and every part of that chair to construct, say, a figure. Some of the best assignments are just coming up with a good idea and putting everybody on the same page. Then they’re all working together on one thing, they’re learning from each other and getting to see what they’re working with. It’s not one guy over here working with clay and one guy working with paint. They’re all headed in the same direction.

I think the classroom is a theater where you develop a family. I tell them, “When you guys miss a class you’re cheating yourselves. You’ve got this two-hour period of time that is put away for you to create something where there’s never been something there before. And if you cut a class, you’ve blown those two hours. They’re gone, and you can’t make them up.”

What do you feel you have left to accomplish?
There’s an endless search. I can tell you right now, when I die, I will not have had enough time to do everything I wanted to do. If it’s tomorrow, if it’s 20 years from now. I could go on for a thousand years.

Too many ideas?
It just flies into my head, mostly in the shower. The scariest thing is to finish a piece and have that excitement and joy and feeling of accomplishment. Then what next? You gotta start from scratch every time. That’s the scary part. You wonder if you’ll ever get another idea again. And the harder you think about it in that moment, the further away you are from accomplishing anything. So, I just wait.

And take showers.
[Laughing] Yes. And then sometimes you’ve got nothing to start with so you find one thing. You just find one thing. And that one thing can give you the impetus to finish the story, and put it all together. Sometimes I know what the piece is going to look like and other times, like this piece I’m working on right now, I just started, because I couldn’t wait for an idea to happen. But it happened. It just came together. I think what happens when an artist becomes really secure with himself is you use yourself as your own reference source. I’ll go back and look at stuff, how did I solve that? I think you’re in a pretty good place when that happens.

You’ve proven yourself to yourself.
Yes. And it’s not about showing in a gallery, it’s not about selling the work, it’s not even about fame, you just can’t stop doing it. You have no choice in the matter.

Check out Michael Stevens’ work at JayJay Gallery (5524 B Elvas Ave., Sacramento) as part of their group exhibit, Monumental, which also includes the art of Roger Berry, Anne Gregory, Koo Kyung Sook and many more. Monumental runs now through April 28, 2018. For more info, go to Jayjayart.com.

Pain, Weed, and the NBA

*This article was published in the Sacramento News & Review on 10-12-17*

Forward Zach Randolph, who signed with the Kings in July for his 17th NBA season, was arrested in August and charged with felony marijuana possession. The charge was later reduced to a misdemeanor and Randolph was sentenced to community service. "I'm not speaking a lot about it, but I felt that I was wrongfully arrested,” Randolph told the media. On whether he expects a fine or suspension from the NBA, Randolph said "No. I didn't do anything wrong."

 

One month later, it appears the NBA may agree, as it has yet to mete out any punishment for Randolph. That silence speaks volumes toward a dramatic shift in its attitude toward marijuana over the past year.

 

On ESPN’s NBA Countdown this past December, Chauncey Billups said “I honestly played with players, I’m not gonna name names, but I wanted them to actually smoke. They played better like that.” The panel discussion came on the heels of a public admission from Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr. "I guess maybe I could even get in some trouble for this, but I've actually tried [marijuana] twice during the last year and a half when I've been going through this chronic pain that I've been dealing with," Kerr told CSN. Kerr had recently undergone two back surgeries and a painful spinal fluid leak. "I think the league should look into medicinal marijuana for pain relief ... that's what should be in the CBA," Kerr said. “It's only a matter of time before medicinal marijuana is allowed in sports leagues because the education will overwhelm the perception."

 

Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson, who conceded he smoked marijuana after his own back surgery, agreed. “We have tried to stop [marijuana use] in the NBA,” Jackson told CBS. ”I don’t think we have been able to stop it. I think it still goes on and is still a part of the culture in the NBA. It is something that we either have to accommodate or figure out another way to deal with it.”

 

The man tasked with figuring it out is NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. Right now, NBA players are currently subjected to four random drug tests throughout the season. “It’s our strong preference that our players do not consume marijuana. We believe it will affect their performance on the court.” Silver told GQ magazine in 2014. ”That said, marijuana testing is something that’s collectively bargained with the players’ association, and we adjust to the times.”

 

Those times may be nigh. In August, Silver retreated a bit from his earlier stance. “I would say it’s something we will look at. I’m very interested in the science when it comes to medical marijuana,” Silver told a reporter. “My personal view is that it should be regulated in the same way that other medications are if the plan is to use it for pain management. And it’s something that needs to be discussed with our Players Association, but to the extent that science demonstrates that there are effective uses for medical reasons, we’ll be open to it. Hopefully there’s not as much pain involved in our sport as some others, so there’s not as much need for it.”

 

Try telling Vince Carter, who signed with the Kings this offseason at age 40, how much pain there is. For Carter, though, any change would come too late to affect his day-to-day routine for pain management. “If it’s not [legal], guys have to figure out how to subside the pain without using it,” Carter told me in the locker room following Monday’s preseason opener against the Spurs. “At this point I’ve been playing for...“ he laughed and stopped short of saying the number. Carter is entering his 20th NBA season. “I’ve been playing for all these years and it wasn’t there. So now you get to the end of your career, and I just know one way. It’s gonna be tough. They have a decision to make.”

 

Kings guard Garrett Temple may have a voice in that decision. This summer, Temple was elected to a three-year term as a Vice President with the NBA Players Association. After  the Spurs game Monday, Temple told me, “Honestly, I think it’s gonna be legal very soon. The NBA being one of the most progressive leagues in the country I’m not surprised we’d be the first to actually legalize it.” (The NHL and MLB do not test for marijuana.) “Some people it does help with different ailments. It’s up to Adam, if he decides to do that or not.”

 

Players like Larry Sanders, whose promising career was cut short in part due to failing four drug tests in five years, have been ostracized for their marijuana use despite an outspoken belief in its medical benefits. “I will deal with the consequences from it. It’s a banned substance in my league,” Sanders told NBA.com.” But I believe in marijuana and the medical side of it.”

 

Now only a few years removed from Sanders’ exodus, Randolph and other NBA players stand to benefit from the league’s increased progressiveness.

Trusting ‘The Process’

*This article was published in the Sacramento News & Review on 11-2-17*

For a franchise, the decision to break up even a semi-competitive team and begin rebuilding can be an agonizing one. It’s akin to leaving a comfortable relationship going nowhere in order to work on yourself and commit to staying single. It will be painful, and there’s no guarantee you’ll find happiness, but it’s the right thing to do.

 

Two very significant games cross the Kings’ early-season schedule that help put their future in perspective. Last Thursday’s matchup with Pelicans was a glimpse down one fork in the road, and this Thursday’s tilt with the 76ers offers a look at another.

 

It’s always hard to see an ex enjoying themselves with someone else. DeMarcus Cousins returned to Sacramento last week, a standing ovation drowning out scattered boos, his 41 points and 23 rebounds leading the Pelicans to a 114-106 victory. “I’ve got nothing but love for this city,” Cousins said after the game. They were the kind of words one says months after a breakup, given some time to heal.

 

Love was never enough to keep Cousins and the Kings together. Two partners in a codependent relationship, a superstar with attitude problems and a dysfunctional organization - in six and a half seasons together, they failed to make the playoffs even once. Finally, the Kings decided to part ways.

 

“It’s tough, because it wasn’t his decision to leave,” Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry said of Cousins after Thursday’s game. “I think when that happens, it stings, it hurts initially. I think he has found himself in a position where we really appreciate everything he brings to the table.”

 

Boogie appears to have found a quick rebound in New Orleans. It may only be the happy early days of a new relationship, but Cousins is playing the part of a good teammate, while displaying the tantalizing skill set that always made him so attractive. Yet it still might not be enough to go all the way. Even alongside another superstar in Anthony Davis and a max-contract point guard in Jrue Holiday, Cousins and the Pelicans find themselves with a short bench and long odds for a championship.

 

Four years ago, the Philadelphia 76ers were mired in their own kind of mediocrity - four playoff trips in five years, but never making it out of the second round. Philadelphia took a shot at adding a Cousins-like talent in Andrew Bynum to take them over the top. They gave up a bounty for Bynum, but it backfired when injuries prevented him from playing a single game. Management was fired. Depleted of young talent and with no viable path to a championship, the Sixers and new GM Sam Hinkie shipped franchise point guard Jrue Holiday to New Orleans, the first domino to fall in what would become known as “The Process.”

 

If rebuilding a team is the equivalent of hitting the gym and working on yourself, “The Process” was joining a monastery and taking a years-long vow of silence.

 

Over the course of three seasons, the Sixers traded their veterans for draft picks, while fielding teams with little NBA talent brought them even more picks. Pundits acted appalled, talking heads called them a disgrace to competition, league executives exerted enough pressure on Sixers’ ownership to force Sam Hinkie out. But now with three potential franchise cornerstones in Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Markelle Fultz, the Sixers are undoubtedly in a better place than they were four years ago.

 

The Kings must now demonstrate the same organizational patience and commitment that Philadelphia showed in its Process. The Cousins trade brought a similar return of young players and picks to build around that the Holiday trade once did for Philly. The Kings will likely have a high lottery pick in next year’s draft. The Sixers, though, also aided their rebuild with savvy trades that took advantage of front offices clinging to contention, most notably the Kings themselves. Two years ago, Kings’ GM Vlade Divac traded the Kings’ unprotected 2019 1st round pick, the rights to swap draft picks in the next two drafts, along with Jason Thompson, Carl Landry, and Nik Stauskas (the Kings’ first round selection a year prior) for the rights to two overseas prospects. The Sixers exercised their pick swap right this year to move up to the third pick, and still hold the Kings’ 2019 pick, looking more valuable than ever after Cousins’ departure. The Kings used that cap space to sign...Rajon Rondo and Marco Belinelli.

 

The Kings, now at the onset of their own rebuild, are forced to overcome the loss of next year’s pick in the same way the Sixers had to recover from losing the picks sent out for Andrew Bynum. With the 2019 pick still hanging over his head, Divac has since demonstrated an ability to learn from his mistakes. Last year’s trade of Marquise Chris for Skal Labissiere and Bogdan Bogdanovic was a great start. Labissiere is sporting an ultra-efficient 52-40-100 slash line alongside spry defense in the early going, while Bogdanovic has combined high-percentage shooting with high-IQ playmaking, making that move look like a clear win for the Kings. Swapping Belinelli for Malachi Richardson was another solid step in the right direction. The haul they got for Cousins has looked better and better as other stars traded around the league fetched much less for their teams, and Buddy Hield blossoms into a capable starter.

 

The draft will always be the fulcrum of any rebuilding effort, particularly in cities without much free agent appeal like Sacramento. Early returns are promising. Justin Jackson and Frank Mason III look like potential rotation mainstays. Georgios Papagiannis and Harry Giles are waiting in the wings. And despite shooting just 39% in his first six games, De’Aaron Fox has already shown he has the talent and makeup to be the leader of an NBA team. “He shoots the ball better than what I did coming in,” Wizards’ star point guard John Wall said of Fox after Sunday’s matchup with the Kings. "He's been great for those guys," Wall told Sactown Royalty. "He's got some great veterans around that's going to help him.”

 

It is impossible to overstate the importance of coaching and player development. Coach Dave Joerger has a tricky balancing act on his hands distributing minutes to his veterans without hurting his young players’ growth. The leadership of Vince Carter, Garrett Temple, and George Hill will be instrumental, but hope within in the organization is that the young players emerge into starting roles sooner than later. The Kings showed faith in Joerger by offering him a two-year extension before the season, an important statement for an organization on its sixth coach in six years. “Because most of our players are young, we have to go back, like to high school and college, and teach,” Divac said before the season opener. “That’s the challenge. But we chose to go down that path and we think it’s the right thing to do.”

 

We’re single right now. It’s tough, but necessary. It will all require the patience of an already longsuffering fan base eager to love a team that loves them back, like the glory teams of the early 2000s, the one that got away. We want love. We want a championship. Let’s trust the process.













 

Faith in Front Office faltering?

This article was published in the Sacramento News & Review on 02.15.18.

 

“Lord, give me strength.” DeMarcus Cousins’ tweet hit timelines on draft night 2016 after the Kings selected another center, Georgios Papagiannis, with the 13th overall pick. But those four words spoke to much more than that. Eighteen months later, Cousins was in the midst of a career year in New Orleans, set to start the all-star game before an Achilles injury derailed his season (get well, soon Boogie!). Nineteen months later, the Kings cut Papagiannis not even two seasons after he was drafted and after they'd already picked up his third-year option, meaning they'll be paying Papagiannis $2.4 million not to play for them next year. Cousins’ tweet now reads as the first line of a prayer on behalf of the entire Kings fan base, still stuck sitting in the valley of death, but paying twice as much for tickets.

 

Papagiannis was one of three first-rounders selected by Kings GM Vlade Divac in 2016. Malachi Richardson, picked 22nd overall that year, was traded to Toronto before Thursday’s trade deadline in exchange for Bruno Caboclo, a 2014 Raptors project about whom ESPN college basketball expert Fran Fraschilla proclaimed, “He's two years away from being two years away.” Four years removed, perhaps Kings GM Vlade Divac saw that phrase as prophetic rather than pejorative.

 

The Kings’ most notable deadline move was shipping veteran point guard George Hill to the Cavaliers in a three-team trade, netting Cavs guard Iman Shumpert, a 2020 second-round draft pick via Miami, the draft rights to Dimitrios Agravanis, $3 million in cash, and forward Joe Johnson from the Jazz, who has since been bought out and joined the Houston Rockets.

 

Thursday’s transactions are less worrisome in a vacuum than they are in the context of a decade-long lack of organizational direction, perpetual shifting of goalposts, and asset mismanagement. The good news: The Kings cut bait with a young player and a veteran signing that weren’t working out, and have some more financial flexibility ($8M this year and $1M in 2019) and a modest draft asset to show for it . The bad news: it’s the same front office that will oversee that cap space and pick.

 

In fairness to Divac, he ended up hitting on his third selection in the 2016 draft, using the 28th pick on Skal Labissiere (while also acquiring Bogdan Bogdanović, now perhaps the Kings’ most consistent player). One out of three is not a terrible batting average, but that’s precisely the point - the draft can be a crapshoot, and it’s been mostly craps for the Kings. To maximize your odds, you need to give yourself as many swings as possible. Competent organizations understand that whether rebuilding or sustaining success, you must win on the margins - especially in a small market, where room for error is razor-thin. After trading their 2019 first-round pick to the 76ers, the Kings are attempting to rebuild with one hand tied behind their back. By bungling their cap situation this past offseason, they effectively used their free hand to slap themselves in the face.

 

The signings of Hill and forward Zach Randolph this past summer represented an attempt to rush the rebuilding process rather than augment it. Besides being obvious overpays, their presence blocked the development of the team’s younger players and put coach Dave Joerger in the precarious position of having to allocate minutes to an oddball assortment of veterans and youth. Beyond that, it was a wasted opportunity to bolster the draft capital the capitol’s team so desperately needs. This coming offseason presents what may be the last shot this front office has to get it right.

 

Fortunately, Sacramento is not the first to forge this path. The Kings can look across the country to the only team that has made a worse trade than they have this century - the Brooklyn Nets. In 2013 the Nets gave up four - FOUR! - first-round picks (2014, 2016, 2018, and a pick swap in 2017) to the Celtics in exchange for a group of past-their-prime players, not one of whom remain on their present-day roster. Nets management can point the blame at their predecessors for that debacle, but the current regime has rebounded smartly.

 

The Nets could have chased free agents this past offseason to boost their short-term outlook and save themselves the embarrassment of giving up (yet another) high draft choice. But they rightly resisted that urge and assessed their lack of a pick this year as a sunk cost. Instead, Brooklyn used their cap space as an asset, taking on other teams’ bad contracts in exchange for sorely-needed draft picks and young stars in need of fresh scenery like D’Angelo Russell. Along the way, they’ve scoured the G-League for diamond-in-the-rough talent like Spencer Dinwiddie, who has since developed into their best player - they reportedly rebuffed multiple offers of first-round picks for Dinwiddie at Thursday’s deadline. Rebuilding without four picks was akin to having their arms AND legs tied up. Instead of struggling and tightening the ropes, the Nets chose to use their teeth and chew through them.

 

The Kings now have the rest of this season to give their young players an opportunity to develop. Vince Carter’s likely buyout should free up another roster spot, and they would be wise to explore more two-way contracts in hopes of unearthing another Dinwiddie. The on-court product will surely struggle, but the Kings are fortunate to own what projects to be a high lottery pick in a vaunted 2018 draft class, and will enter the offseason near the top of the league in available cap space. Divac has shown incremental improvement in his three years in office, but the team can ill afford any more missteps. Nail the draft, add talent around the edges, use the cap in Nets-like fashion, and in addition to the young corps already in place, the Kings could be in excellent shape in a year’s time. Take the wrong approach, and the team will remain mired in mediocrity, whether those currently in power are around to see it or not. Lord, give us strength.




 

Welcome to the Eagles’ Bandwagon, America

*This article appeared in Voices: River City on 1-30-18

http://voicesrivercity.com/2018/01/30/welcome-to-the-eagles-bandwagon-america/

Forty-six out of 50 states are united by one thing: they’re rooting for the Eagles to beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl. This is according to a map based on geotagged Twitter data, the sole intel used in White House briefings now. Outside of New England, the only exception is North Dakota, which has 12 people and should probably just be absorbed by South Dakota to form Dakota. Then we can let Puerto Rico be a state and still keep it at 50 so Old Navy doesn’t have to make new flag T-shirts.

Even in New England, Vermont left the Tea Party to join the Eagles’ ranks. Wondering why? Want to feel like you’re doing more than just hopping on the bandwagon? As a lifelong Eagles fan, I’m here to help while not throwing beer cans at you.

1. We love an underdog. Ever since the actual patriots upset the redcoats in the “Liberty Bowl,” rooting for the underdog has been one of America’s favorite pastimes that doesn’t involve guns or eating. The Eagles are not only 5-point underdogs in the Super Bowl, but have been underdogs for the entire playoffs. After losing quarterback Carson Wentz, the MVP-favorite before his injury, the Eagles became the first No. 1 seed in history to open the playoffs as an underdog. Eagles right tackle/marketing genius Lane Johnson embraced that spirit and bought dog masks for the team to wear after beating the Falcons in the divisional round. The masks were a hit among the rabid Philly fan base and Amazon quickly sold out of them, so Johnson partnered with a local business to stock up on more masks, raising over 100,000 bones for Philly public schools—despite the best efforts of the NFL to take a bite of the money.

 

2. Enough, already! This has been the year America finally decided to stop putting up with the bullshit. And this Sunday it’s time for the Patriot-archy to fall. Since 2002, when Patriots coach Bill Belichick joined the dark side and sacrificed a GOAT to the forces of evil, the Patriots have been to seven Super Bowls, winning five. In that time period, no other team has come close to that number – they are the 1 percent of the NFL. On top of that, each of their Super Bowl wins (and many major playoff wins) has come by fewer than 7 points. Obscure rulesgoal-line interceptionseverything-went-wrong collapses, and various forms of cheating have given the Patriots the tiny edge they’ve needed each time. Look, winning is winning—their Lombardi trophies aren’t going anywhere. But it’s high time we threw a little paint on that fur hoodie of Belichick’s.

 

3. No one likes a cheater. Maybe you don’t believe that Tom Brady (and/or two team trainers who have since been banished to the shadow realm) deflated footballs a few years ago. Maybe you believe the partner you once caught cheating red-handed when they say “I’ve changed!”… and believe them again when they come home with lipstick on their replica jersey. That’s fine—you have a big heart. But even if the Patriots were unfairly punished for Deflategate, it was surely, as one NFL owner put it, a makeup call for Spygate.

In 2007, the Patriots were caught taping opponents’ practices and walkthroughs and stealing signals to use in games. Years of players’ and coaches’ suspicions were validated, including damning quotesfrom some of the players they faced in Super Bowls against the Rams, Panthers, and Eagles. Belichick admitted the Patriots taped a “significant number” of games, and according to documents and sources, they recorded signals in at least 40 games during the Spygate era. Despite a historic punishment for the team and a maximum fine for Belichick, most felt the league let the Patriots off easy, and for some reason (read: to save their own asses) destroyed the videotapes. Some league officials said the tapes were shredded, and some said they were burned in a dumpster. Probably the same dumpster your ex cheated on you behind. Sorry, Patriots—we’re through. It’s not me, it’s you.

4. None of the Eagles’ Super Bowl rings have been given to Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin.That’s just a fact. Sure, the Eagles don’t have any Super Bowl rings, but that’s not really the point here. Not only did the Patriots handcraft a ring for Trump to wear on his tiny hand, somehow, Russian President Vladimir Putin ended up with a ring as well. Putin claims it was a gift. Patriots owner Robert Kraft says he stole it. Trump is on record as saying he believes Putin, at least as far as that whole “meddling in our election” thing goes. Kraft and Trump are friends. Someone is lying. But who? I’m Sarah Koenig …and this is Serial.

Yes, Kraft is longtime friends with Donald Trump. Trump and Tom Brady are also golfing buddies, and Brady endorsed him for president. But hey, isn’t this FOOTBALL? What do politics have to do with it? Fair enough. If you really want to keep politics out of football, don’t root for the guys who are friends with the guy who went off-teleprompter to call NFL players “sons of bitches.”

 

5. Think of the children! Eagles’ safety Malcolm Jenkins, one of the sons-of-bitches leaders of the social justice protests from earlier this season, was nominated for Walter Payton Man of the Year this year for his work with local police, city, state and national lawmakers, inmates and prison officials, and through his charity foundation. He calls this Eagles team “the most socially proactive locker room I’ve ever been a part of.” That includes teammate Chris Long, a former Man of the Year nominee himself, who is playing for free this season and donating his entire salary to improving educational opportunities for disadvantaged kids. Each player on the Super Bowl-winning team gets $107,000—meaning those kids would get at least that much from Long alone if the Eagles win. Look, I’m not saying there aren’t great men “on both sides”—I’m just saying Obama never tweeted about any Patriots. Especially not this guy.

Barack Obama@BarackObama

Replying to @BarackObama

Chris Long gave his paychecks from the first six games of the NFL season to fund scholarships in Charlottesville, VA. He wanted to do more, so he decided to give away an entire season’s salary. That’s a story from 2017. http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/eagles/philadelphia-eagles-chris-long-donated-paychecks-charity-20171019.html …

9:10 AM - Dec 29, 2017

 

Chris Long is playing for free, and has never been happier - Philly

Chris Long pledged all of his 2017 salary to promote educational equity in Philadelphia, Boston and St. Louis.

philly.com

Twitter Ads info and privacy

6. Science or Scientology? In 2013, the Eagles became the first team in pro sports to develop a sports science program, instituted by former head coach/failed wizard Chip Kelly. After Kelly’s departure, current Eagles coach Doug Pederson decided to retain Kelly’s sports science director and strength coach on his staff. Gone are quirks like personalized smoothies, sleep monitors, and breathing quizzes, but Eagles players still credit the more basic sports science techniques for their sustained health. “I think it’s just more the knowledge,” Malcolm Jenkins said. “Guys learned a lot more about how to take care of themselves.”

On the other side of the lab we have the “TB12 Method,” developed by Brady and his trainer Alex Guerrero, who once paid a judgment to the Federal Trade Commission to settle allegations that he had claimed dietary supplements could help cure cancer. Guerrero, the L. Ron Hubbard of the locker room, also claims to hold a degree in Chinese medicine from a now-defunct university, and espouses the idea that players are completely responsible for their own injuries. “When athletes get injured, they shouldn’t blame their sport,” Brady wrote in his book. Many of TB12’s tenets and health tips are helpful or harmless, but the player-responsibility angle is a dangerous one to propagate, especially in the current climate of concussion awareness, and several players have described TB12 as “like a cult.” Personally, I believe climate change is a Chinese hoax more than I believe this guy.

7. Nickfolean Dynamite. Across the aisle from Brady, the “pretty boy” quarterback with the supermodel wife, the man who golfs with the Illuminati, married a supermodel and has never eaten a strawberry, is … Nick Foles. Who? Exactly. The Eagles backup quarterback had a career year with the Eagles in 2013 under then-wizard Chip Kelly, before some rough years with the Rams under the prince of NFL purgatory, Mr. 7-9 himself, Jeff Fisher. At one points Foles even contemplated retirement, finally signing back with the Eagles as a second-string QB. After the loss of Carson Wentz, everyone wrote the Eagles off as a Super Bowl contender. Even me. Since, Foles has put together two practically perfect playoff games. I’m sorry, Nick. Foles is now trying to join Jeff Hostetler as the only backup quarterbacks to take over a team this late in the season and win the the Super Bowl.

Oh yeah, and he kinda looks like Napoleon Dynamite.

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So that’s why America is rooting for the Eagles, and why you should too. But as we know all too well, the popular vote means nothing.We’re all just hoping they can topple a dynasty. So on Sunday, wear some midnight green, don your doggie mask and join the revolution. It’ll be televised. And if nothing else, the commercials will be funny.