Friday, December 9, 2011

Annnd We're Off! NBA Offseason Madness Day 1, Part II

My oh my oh my. Was this really only the first day of the NBA free agency season? How can we top all that transpired yesterday, short of a 5-team trade that brings LeBron, Howard, Wade, Durant, and Kobe to the Minnesota Timberwolves? Let's start with a short summary of the (rest of the) day's events:

* Collective Bargaining Agreement is made official; play ball!
* Lakers attempt trade for Chris Paul; NBA slaps them on the hand and puts them on timeout
* Caron Butler to sign with the Clippers
* Celtics acquire Keyon Dooling for a 2nd-round pick...or for the Cheers Season 1 DVD and a bowl of clam chowder
* Thunder unsure what to do with Nate Robinson…but they know they don't him to play
* Dwight Howard reportedly will request trade to the Nets
* Previously free-spending Mark Cuban gets possessed by the soul of a Wal-Mart shopper
* Shannon Brown to sign with the Suns

First off of course is the mega-deal that was...and then wasn't. The Lakers, Hornets, and Rockets agreed to a trade to send Chris Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to the Rockets, and Lamar Odom, Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Gordon Dragic, and a 2012 pick to the Hornets. The NBA owners, most (if not all) of whom were hanging out in New York (presumably sipping bubbly bought with a bit of that 3 billion bucks they just wrenched from the players), caught wind of the trade, caught a collective hissy-fit, threw up their hands and raised all hell to David Stern about the three misbehaving kids in the back of the classroom. Stern, almost immediately, put the deal on hold, took a while to compose himself after a fit of laughter, then called the miscreant ringleader to the front of the classroom, whacked the back of his hand with a ruler and took away his shiny new toy.

Seriously, this is one hilarious episode for everyone involved or emotionally invested. Hundreds of Laker fans are wiping egg off their faces and cursing the day David Stern’s parents went on their first date. ESPN’s J.A. Adande admonished the league for undercutting the Hornets, while ESPN’s John Hollinger praised the league for saving the Lakers from themselves. And Knick fans everywhere sighed in relief and went to sleep with renewed illogical hope that their prized free-agent would soon end up under Madison Square Garden’s Christmas tree. But let me go back to Laker fans for a moment, who are saying en masse that David Stern blocked this trade because he hates their team so much. Lemme get this straight: 9 years ago, everyone said Stern pushed the refs to let the Lakers beat the Kings; 4 years ago, everyone said Stern let the Gasol trade go thru because he so wanted the Lakers to be elite again; last year, everyone said Stern was beside himself with schoolgirl-giddy joy, rolling around like a lottery winner in mounds of cash and bathing in tub-fulls champagne, because the Lakers and Celtics back were in the Finals…and now Laker fans are submitting that David Stern actually hates the Lakers? You people cannot be serious.

However, there’s an angle to this mess that no one to this point seems to be discussing: the Rockets. Specifically: what on Earth in the name of Dr. James Naismith were they thinking? If the league saved the Lakers from shooting themselves in the foot, they saved the Rockets from dousing themselves in kerosene, lighting themselves on fire, and jumping off the roof of a skyscraper. You’re trading Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Gordon Dragic, and 2012 pick to get…Pau Gasol? Really? To now have a team with Gasol, Courtney Lee, Chase Budinger, Jonny Flynn, Kyle Lowry, Hasheem Thabeet, Terrance Will…(ok, I can’t go on. The rest of the names only become increasingly anonymous.) Seriously, this is your plan for life after Yao Ming? Everyone complained about the 2008 Pau Gasol-to-Lakers trade, but I have always held that it was fair because of the Grizzlies’ stated need to shed salary and rebuild the team. The fact that the principle player they received, Marc Gasol, has blossomed into a very good center, and that the other acquired assets were flipped into Zach Randolph, has removed all validity from all arguments against the trade (not that this prevents the occasional babbling internet forum troll from whining about it to this day). But this Gasol trade? This truly defies logic. Unless I’m not paying attention, I have yet to hear anyone say the Rockets are in salary-cap hell. Everyone has been saying that their stated purpose is to find a center to replace Yao Ming. So, instead of going after Nene or the other available free-agents centers, you trade the only two players who’ve ever so much as sniffed a single All-Star vote for a power forward who’s never fared well when forced to masquerade as a center? Seriously? I need someone, some writer on the interwebs, to explain this to me. When I originally heard the trade was put on hold, I immediately assumed it was the Rockets who balked after speaking with Shane Battier, who, compelled by a sense of duty, called to give a brief history lesson on the futility of building a team with Pau Gasol and spare parts.

From a certain point of view, this trade hardly makes sense for the Lakers, either. You give up the only power forwards on your team, trading away the biggest advantage that made you a perennial contender? I know Chris Paul is a unique talent, but who in LA is going to play the 4, the artist formerly known as Ron Artest? Joe Smith? Derrick Caracter? Hell, why not Derek Fisher, or Derek Jeter for that matter? You couldn’t guard Dirk Nowitzki last April with three 7-footers, so your solution is one 7-footer and a pesky 6-footer? Teams like Dallas and Oklahoma City have spent the past 2-3 years getting bigger up front with the sole purpose of matching the Lakers size advantage. To trade it all away simply to get Kobe the point guard he’s always coveted is not the answer. And somehow swapping Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard isn’t going to do the trick either. Unless you missed a lesson in basic math, 1-1+1=…1. In a way, I’m almost saddened this trade didn’t go thru. With Tyson Chandler all but gone from the Mavericks, the Lakers suddenly turning into a 6’6”-and-under league, the Rockets mutating into the 2005-2007 Grizzlies, the Spurs slowly rusting, and everyone else from Portland to Phoenix in a state of flux, you might as well just go ahead and pencil the Thunder and Grizzlies in for the Western Finals.

One of those teams in a state of flux would be the LA Clippers, with whom Caron Butler has agreed to sign. For Caron, it’s definitely a better fit with more longer-term upside than the aging Spurs, who he flirted with only one day earlier before wising up and siding with the young, fresh and green Clippers. For the Clips, they now have Wicked Blake, Eric Gordon, Butler, DeAndre Jordan, Al-Farouq Aminu, and others; for the most part, a young team with a fairly bright future. By all accounts, the Clips have only begun wheeling and dealing, so it probably makes more sense to wait for more moves before seeing how this shakes out. Caron makes them a decidedly better, if not quite a contending, team.

Back east, the Celtics acquired Keyon Dooling in a trade for a second-round pick...well, no one’s quite sure yet what exactly the Celtics have offered the Bucks for the privilege of acquiring Mr. Dooling’s services, after initially reporting they were giving up a draft pick. Did the “sources” not bother to mention it? Did the reporters not care enough to ask? Did the Bucks not care what they got in return? I can hear it now:

Phone rings in Milwaukee Bucks GM’s office

“Hi, this is Danny Ainge, of the Celtics.”
“Hey Danny, what’s up?”
“We’d like to trade for Keyon Dooling, we’ll offer…”
“You what? Sure, no problem, it’s a deal.” *click*

Whatever the reason, the fact that no one yet knows seems entirely appropriate.

The Thunder put Nate Robinson in purgatory. OKC’s GM is quoted as saying they don’t know what they’re going to do with Nate, but he’s not in the team’s plans going forward. Which, really, seems to be saying: we don’t want him, but we’re not sure anyone else wants him either. Poor Nate. It seems only months ago he was torturing the Knicks' Mike D’Antoni with alternating 20-point breakout nights and 2-12 shooting meltdowns. Then he drifts between two championship contenders, who, after giving him some initial playing time, eventually decide he’s much more valuable to the team as a cheerleader and seat warmer. And now this. This is definitely not a forward direction for his career.

Sources say that Dwight Howard will soon ask to be traded to the Nets. That egg on Laker fans’ faces is about to turn into an omelet. Seriously, show of hands: which of you are prepared to go forward with Kobe Byrant’s medically-regenerated yet ageing knees, Andrew Bynum’s freak-accident knees, and Chris Paul’s balky knee? I just love the hubris I’ve been seeing and getting from Laker fans, their absolute certainty that Howard was on the way. It’s been reported that Dwight Howard spent part of the summer having pow-wows with Deron Williams about the possibility of teaming up. Honestly, is there any better reason for Deron to come out and say he’s 90% certain he’ll stay in JerseyBrooklyn? And better yet, there have been whispers – quiet ones – that Dwight is at least somewhat apprehensive about looking like he’s willfully following Shaquille O’Neal’s entire career arc to the letter.

My To-Do List
Get drafted by Orlando
Adopt Superman moniker
Lose NBA Finals
Force trade to Lakers

Now, unlike most fans, I don’t aspire to speak the thoughts of people whom I’ve never met, never spoken to, and likely have a snowball’s chance in hell of befriending. However, I can’t see how anyone in his position could not be sensitive to how this would look. He’d have to win 6 straight titles in LA to break out of Shaq’s shadow…and I’m having a little difficulty imagining Kobe in a ring ceremony at 39 years old. Not to mention having to be reminded of said shadow each and every Thursday when you tune into TNT and see Shaq’s smiling mug? Hell, I’ll say it: I personally would lose a ton of respect for Dwight (not that this matters any, but still...). I don’t care how much you want rings; there has to be a point where you say to yourself, “there’s got to be another team, another way”.

So apparently, the new CBA has transformed Mark Cuban from a free-wheeling big spender to a coupon-clipping bargain hunter? He is now looking to shed every free-agent salary – namely, Caron Butler, Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea, and likely Deshawn Stevenson – to get under the cap? What? Did I just pass thru the looking glass? It’s said he’s setting himself up to get in on the 2012 free agency period. Umm Mark, if you haven’t heard, all of the prized free agents are going elsewhere. Let’s say Dwight decides to start anew in JerseyBrooklyn, and CP3 weasels his way to the Celtics, Lakers, or another suitor who doesn't care if he signs an extension. You really think a by-then-34-year-old Dirk is gonna be enough to convince CP3 to sign over the rest of his prime to the Mavericks? Especially with the Knicks, his preferred destination, employing Tyson Chandler, his preferred center? And after him, who’s left that you covet so highly? I think Cuban’s going about this all wrong. You should just do what you need to do to wring every bit of another 2 years of contention out of this team, and take the subsequent lean rebuilding years lumps like a man. Watch a DVD of your title years if you get too depressed during the time. The attempt to circumvent after-championship downfall years didn’t work for the post-Jordan Bulls, it’s not working for the Detroit Pistons, and it ain’t gonna work for you either. You’re about to waste the rest of Dirk’s prime chasing an illusion.

Finally, Shannon Brown has agreed to sign with the Suns. So now, if the mega-trade would’ve gone thru, in addition to having no power forwards, the Lake Show would’ve also started camp with exactly one shooting guard? Has the Miami Heat formula of team-building – subtraction by subtraction – suddenly become the sexiest plan in the NBA?

And, keep in mind, all this was just day one. What’s in store for day two?

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