Thursday, January 31, 2013

It's Hard To Play Basketball When Your Management Gives Up

Tonight in the first half of a nationally televised road game in Oklahoma City, the Memphis Grizzlies took the floor for their first game since a salary dump trade left them without top swingman Rudy Gay. The team is missing some bench assets as a result of the pending transaction, and the Thunder were primed for a big effort after a loss left weekend in Los Angeles, so this was going to be a real test to see if the remaining Grizz were going to exert an awful lot of effort...

And then the first half happened, and OKC raced off to a 2-point lead without seeming to have to try very hard. The Thunder lost their way in the third when point guard Russell Westbrook had one of his periodic emotional episodes, and lead dog Zack Randolph and point guard Mike Conley finally started hitting some shots. But even during the Memphis run, it was obvious that the Thunder were eventually going to wake up and reassert themselves, which is, well, what happened as soon as the fourth quarter started. The last five minutes was garbage time; this will become fairly common for the Grizz.

I'm not going to defend the idea that Gay was worth his contract number, or that Memphis should be looking to pay luxury tax dollars to keep a team that looks capped out as the 4th best team in the West, which basically means a first or second round exit every year.

But, well, maybe someone should.

Because the dirty little secret of the NBA, especially over time, is that they are becoming more and more like MLB every year. A good team from a small market is eventually going to make a mistake or get unlucky with a contract, as Memphis did with Gay's injury and subsequent failure to come all of the way back, and that, well, will be that. Memphis is going to fall behind Golden State soon, and Denver after that, and get their head handed to them in an easy first round series for a real team.

And next year, when the troika of Mike Conley / Marc Gasol / Zeke Randolph makes you a perpetual 45-win team, and no free agent will come near you with a ten-foot pole, and you need to somehow hit on a top starter in a sub-lottery pick...

Well, that lasts for about a year or two, until Gasol or Randolph or Conley decides that they need to get away from this goat ride to nowhere, and forces a trade for 60 cents on the dollar. That's assuming that they haven't developed an injury in the interim.

And this is really what bothers me the most about sports now; this insistence on playing the game as if the audience were all backstage guys who cared only about championships, and that being one of the top half dozen or so teams in the league had no value at all, and just requires you to blow it up, over and over again, to compete with the big market money teams that actually get to try every year. It's infuriating on its face, and is left to the players to try and fool themselves into making an effort anyway.

For half of the game tonight, Memphis failed to fool themselves, and by the time they got their heads back on straight / OKC falling asleep a bit, the game was lost. Later run notwithstanding.

And no one's going to remember just how good this team was, and how they were actually fun to watch once, before their management gave up a long time before the players did...

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