Starting to feel the grind.
Pack of cigarettes and quart of rye narrowly getting me by.
Players’ faces blurred reflections of my lost self. Quote after quote, I’m betwixt the thick, mired line of reporting and reality. Everything that I and these Toronto Raptors share, an apparition of intimacy; we are sundered by the public’s watchful eye. None of us are who we want to be.
Still fresh as a daisy over here.
Though, my natural cynicism bubbles up anyways. One thing I’ve noticed, already, is the challenge of A. Asking a question that elicits some kind of meaningful response and B. Figuring out how to figure out what the Hell is being said through all the careful wording and vague responses.
It’s truly an art form. Remaining ambiguous and verbose. Nick Nurse is as good as any at it. It seems.
For example, there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the back-up guard situation right now.
The running joke, but also very serious theme, of this training camp, is Freddy’s minutes. It was asked on Media Monday (Nurse was already irritated then), it was asked Tuesday, and, of course, it was asked on Wednesday.
“Could Malachi [Flynn] be a guy to lessen Freddy’s minutes?” Nurse was asked.
Now, let me tell you, before I go on.
Nurse is realllllly over that question and anything remotely related to it. When asked – it’s almost as though he knew it was coming – a slight smirk arose at the corners of his mouth. He started to squint kinda like a pirate, a look of exasperated hilarity upon his face, as he scanned the guilty lot of us.
We all knew what he was silently, yet explicitly, communicating, staring at each of us individually: This question!? Again?
Faithful Nurse, always stern, but always fair, responded in kind:
“For sure. I still think the rotation and the second unit or the guys coming off the bench is going to be an evolving process,” Nurse mused. “That’s what these guys are fighting for right now. Somebody has to step up and win those jobs for the moment. Someone has to win them as we head into Game 1 and then we play it out from there as well. But it’s going to be a close call.”
So, the answer is maybe, possibly, yes, but also, possibly, no. Either way, we were definitely no closer to knowing about Malachi’s minutes in proportion to Freddy’s after that answer.
When prodded further regarding Malachi’s spectacular performances in the PRO-AM circuits this summer, Nurse explained,
“What I’ve noticed from him just in the times we did see him this summer is just a guy carrying himself with a little more confidence…just seeing him again playing with a lot of confidence – I mean he was really outstanding today in practice. He was making shots and hitting floaters and his team was having a lot of success out there so it was REALLY good to see, that’s what you want to see. You want to see some of that carry over to now.”
But. Nurse also said something similar about Dalano Banton yesterday, “[Dalano was] as good as anybody on the floor today.” And, something, relatively, similar in regards to Banton’s FIBA experiences and his confidence too.
So, if the question was angled to ask is Malachi the one getting Freddy’s minutes over, say, Banton – which many of us are speculating and wondering – we’re also no closer to knowing that either.
There’s two roads to take with all this backup guard talk.
The first. Nick doesn’t know yet. That’s what training camp is for, that’s what this coming month’s practices are all for, that’s what the exhibition games are for: to figure it out. Maybe it’s Dalano. Maybe it’s Malachi. Maybe it’s neither. Hence, the obscurity of these answers.
The second. Nick does know, and we’re sure as Hell not gonna know about it. All this back-and-forth is just a pile of gobbly-goop barricading us far-far-away from his inner knowledge.
I’m not, necessarily, trying to speculate. It’s just all so interesting, these scrums, these rushed, momentary exchanges between media and players.
Media knows it won’t get the answers, but asks anyway. Respondents, like Nurse and Freddy – we’ll talk Freddy momentarily – know you’re not going to get THE answer, but give AN answer anyway.
The entire affair a cooperative, platonic dance.
Freddy was as mercurial as Nurse about sharing minutes and the ball. Cuter, but mercurial.
Was Freddy going to play less minutes?
“In theory, a better team requires less from their top guys and that would be the hope. We’ll see, I’ll believe it when I see it but all we care about is winning, whatever that takes.”
Would he have difficulty relinquishing the ball as the point guard?
“I’ll let you know when I find out. I’ll let you know when it happens. I haven’t seen it yet. I don’t think my role has changed much, if at all, since I’ve been here other than having it more and being asked to do a little bit more.”
Certainly, sounds like he might have a bit of difficult, but Freddy quickly qualified that with, “If we’re winning, it will not matter, trust me. That’s all I’m worried about.”
As you can imagine, all I discovered from that exchange was: winning dictates all. Naturally. When, exactly, does “change” occur, before the winning or after the losing? I’m not so sure. I’ll let you know when I know.
With what we do hear – and don’t hear – one could go further down the rabbit hole of conjecture.
In three days, Nurse has failed to mention Jeff Downtin or Ron Harper Jr., for example; Gary, too, hasn’t really come up all that much in conversation. I’m not saying, I’m just saying. (Though, to be fair, as Oren said on the Rap Up Live show yesterday, some of this might just be how and what the media asks. Some, mostly main guys, are just more interesting from a storyline perspective than others.)
Nurse, also, when speaking about depth on Tuesday, included Otto Porter Jr., Christian Koloko, and Juancho Hernangomez(👀) as names. Maybe they were top of mind because they’re new. But no mentioning of DJ Wilson, Josh Jackson or Gabe Brown, who are also new.
Remember, Juancho’s money is guaranteed, but his roster spot isn’t. So, in theory, he should be mentioned in the same light as Wilson, Jackson, and Brown, not Porter Jr. and Koloko. “👀” as Twitter dramatists say so well.
But like I just discussed at length, we’re not exactly sure that any of what Nurse does and doesn’t say has any concentration of substantive truth to it. It all seems to be that technical truth variety. The one, where you can say after the truth-truth comes out, “Well, I wasn’t lying.”
That’s the extent of my sleuthing anyway.
When it comes to personnel decisions and rotations, I’m not sure we’ll ever really find out anything of substance. Truly, time and exhibition will tell all.
There’s likely not going to be any one answer with this group anyway. Early on, in the season, there will be many an experiment and iteration deployed. That’s a natural progression for any team. Especially, one as wily as the Raptors.
I love it – the reporting and questioning – don’t get me wrong. It’s a blast discovering the intricacies of asking good questions, figuring out what the Hell I just listened to, and determining what it all actually means. It’s journalism. It’s a challenge. It’s a delight.
No question, there’s value in what we hear and what we report. It’s just so often tenuous.
And, perhaps, that’s what makes this dynamic between interviewer and interviewee, at least when congenial, so seductive.
The truth is tightly bound in a knot of cautiousness, and all one can do to untangle it is indulge the schadenfreude of asking Nurse one aggravating question after another.