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|It's not enough to have Maradona in the stands. We need him on the sidelines.|
6:35 p.m., Embassy Row offices, crap part of Soho.
As I wait for LeBron to "write the future" of the NBA and for Spain and the Netherlands to re-enact some long-forgotten 16th-century naval battle on a Joburg pitch, I can't help but feel a nagging void in my stomach. For days the source of this void has eluded me, but after an ill-advised Bikram yoga session on the street in front of my office, the void's source revealed itself: the prospect of a Maradona-less future. The Argentina coach was subdued and sportsmanlike after his country's defeat at the hand of the Germans. In his postgame remarks, he hinted that he might leave his post as coach of the national team. As grim as that is for the legions who found endless joy in his sideline antics, it means we still have a chance to lure him to the NBA. New York City has "C'mon LeBron"; perhaps it's time for Off The Ball to start our "Vamos Diego" campaign. With help from our readers, here is the five-point plan for bringing Maradona stateside.
1. There is only one Maradona-ready franchise.
We need a franchise with the perfect mix of world-class facilities and abject desperation set within a cosmopolitan, socially liberal area with a large and affluent Spanish-speaking population. The abject desperation excuses Miami, Houston, Dallas and Phoenix. The New York-area franchises have their chosen coaches firmly in place. There is only one franchise that could literally do its legacy no harm by trying the Maradona experiment: the Los Angeles Clippers.
2. Hire a succession of attractive women to be Diego's personal "attaché."
If ever there was any doubt to Diego's sexual preference he laid that to rest during this World Cup when, after gleefully smooching his players, he told reporters, "I still prefer women. I am dating Veronica, who is blonde and 31 years old." The Clippers will keep this legendary lothario motivated by adding a steady rotation of Hollywood's finest out-of-work actresses to the company payroll. And while they're at it, they should set up a BP-sized escrow account for the potential avalanche of sexual harassment suits.
3. Surround Maradona with some of the best minds in the NBA.
OK, so there is precious little evidence to suggest that Maradona knows much about basketball. We know he likes the sport. But is that enough to coach an NBA team? The easiest solution is to hire some of the best pure assistants in the game, guys like San Antonio assistant/offensive savant Mike Budenholzer (mentor to Argentina's finest basketball export, Manu Ginobli) and Houston Rockets strategic wizard Elston Turner (who helped Argentine Luis Scola grow into a legitimate threat). By turning the X's and O's over to the hoops experts, Maradona can focus on his true talent: inspiring players and entertaining fans.
4. Build a roster full of Maradona worshipers.
While a quarterfinal exit is hardly a success by Argentine standards, it does help to remember that Maradona turned what a few months ago looked like a massive disaster into a nice run. The conclusion here is that Maradona coaching experiments work only when the players buy into the cult of Diego. With the possible exception of Chris Kaman (who might have picked up some footy love during his turn as a German Olympian), the Clippers' roster is in need of a serious overhaul when it comes to Maradona IQ.
Now, I'm not committed enough to this theoretical construct to go to a place so dark as the mind of a Clippers executive, but I'll give the roster a rudimentary updating without consideration for real-life constraints like, say, willing trade participants, salary-cap parameters or players with self-destructive impulses strong enough to compel them to sign on the dotted line of my brave new Maradonian world.
PG -- Ricky Rubio. The soccer-obsessed Spaniard's Twitter account is awash in World Cup tweets. You want him in the NBA? Tell him Diego has come to liberate him from the bleak prospect of long Minnesota winters sharing the ball with Jonny Flynn.
SG -- Manu Ginobli. An offer the NBA's perennial Most Valuable Argentine can't refuse: Spend your golden years starting for your boyhood hero. A nice free-agent pickup for the Clips.
SF -- LeBron James. The Clippers have until 9 p.m. ET Thursday to enact the hire Maradona strategy if they want to land the King.
PF -- Marc Gasol. With Pau entering his prime for the Lakeshow, the Gasol family would gladly pull a modern-day Beverly Hillbillies and split M-town for Hollywood. This Barcelonan is already a prolific rebounder and has All-Star talent and upside.
C -- Yao Ming. There is no surer path to heartache than through the bad feet of a big man. But somewhere in those size 18 boots rests a direct link to nearly 20 percent of the world's wallets. The prospects of a Gasol/Ming twin towers tag team is too tempting to resist.
G -- Leandro Barbosa. The Brazilian Blur might not be the best sixth man in the game any longer but still provides great speed off the bench.
G -- Goran Dragic. A Slovenian spark plug who grew up playing soccer and was a revelation during this year's playoffs; a rising star at point guard who will battle Rubio for the starting nod.
F/C -- Luis Scola. The crafty Argentine vet always finds a way to win (loads of Spanish League Cups and an Olympic gold medal) and now seems to have his NBA game in place.
F -- Yi Jianlian. The young heir apparent to Yao's mantle is off to a rough start. Yi could use some of Diego's special brand of psychological reinvigoration.
G/F -- Carlos Delfino. Delfino is a versatile bench option and more home-country talent for Maradona to help build team unity.
C -- Fabricio Oberto. Another Argentine bench player who can give you quality minutes and who can keep his good buddy Manu entertained.
F -- Al-Farouq Aminu. A nice-looking prospect from this year's draft, he may or may not like soccer but he is supposedly descended from Nigerian kings, so how could he not fit in?
These guys love the beautiful game and together would reach nearly every key growth market in the world. And they'll take care of the India demo once the Bhullar brothers hit the lottery in 2014.
5. Give the Clippers the old Expos treatment.
Much like the Expos, who traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico, for 22 home games the year before they left Montreal, the Clippers need to hit the road. The Clippers must get a Christmas Day home game against the Lakers in one of their many former hometowns, the appropriately named San Diego. Within five years they'll be in San Diego full-time in a new arena and by 2018 every San Diegan schoolchild will believe the town was named after Maradona. The Clips should also have annual regular-season "homestands" in strategically relevant cities. Twice a year they could play three-game sets in Buenos Aires. They could also get back-to-back three-game homestands in cities like Shanghai, Tokyo, Mumbai, Barcelona, London and Rio de Janeiro. With about 12 international home games every season and a roster of global talent led by one of the world's most famous sportsmen, the Clippers will be the franchise that leads basketball into the future.
With these five steps in place, Maradona to the NBA is a lock. As an Argentine legislator told The Associated Press when suggesting the erection of a Maradona statue in his homeland, "When it comes to Maradona, the results are not important." Clippers, the future is yours. Vamos, Diego!