Saturday, June 15, 2013

Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, and what the Celtics and Lakers have wrought

Teammates?
I meant to comment on this in the last series, but I forgot the point; a sign that was seen in the Pacers' crowd, "Built, Not Bought." The conceit being that Indiana was in some way superior, perhaps on a moral or ethical level, because the franchise constructed the team in a traditional fashion, rather than the star political work that united Chris Bosh and LeBron James with Dwyane Wade.

Now, let's leave aside the absurdity of the statement -- that how a team's roster is constructed, in a team with a pretty strong salary cap, is more or less ethical than any other -- and just go with the meat of the complaint. To wit, that the way that star players are more or less building their own franchises, in a conspiratorial fashion, is a new and unwelcome method of building a team, since it basically favors the rich getting richer, and attractive NBA cities (those would be the ones with better weather and state income tax situations) are going to always crush less advantaged cities.

Now, two points about this:

1) In a league where two franchises -- Boston and Los Angeles -- have dominated to an extent that is greater than any other league (yes, even more than the Yankees and Cardinals in baseball), and for a much greater period of time, how exactly do we know this is new, and

2) Can't we acknowledge how the obvious trading tank jobs down by the Lakers and Celtics to power their recent championships inspired all of this?

Remember, the Lakers win from the acquisition of Pau Gasol from the Grizzlies, in a trade that was regarded for years as vital to the Laker rings, and a move that stank like week-old fish in terms of competitive balance. Just as the Celtics' rise to glory was achieved in extreme part by the acquisition of Kevin Garnett from the Timberwolves and not for very long General Manager Kevin McHale, who is better known for his Hall of Fame career while playing for, um, the Celtics. The construction of these Big Threes more or less convinced James that (a) the game was rigged against a traditional team build, so he had to take matters in his own hands, and (b) if the game was going to be fixed, it was time to fix it back. The past three trips to the Finals, likely to result in two rings and maybe more, prove to the world that, no matter what else you might think of James as a person, he's spot on as a talent evaluator.)

So the story on the World Wide Leader today is that Chris Paul and Dwight Howard have been in contact with each other to conspire to be teammates when they become free agents, which happens, um, on July 1. And if you believe in the rule of three, well howdy... Denver's Andre Iguodala just opted out of his deal, so he's free, too. And if I can have those three together, it's one hell of a nucleus, in that a motivated Howard and Iguodala are shutdown defenders, and Paul will make both of them wildly more effective on offense by being the first elite point guard they've ever played with.

Good enough to win an NBA championship? Well, it depends on the rest of the roster and the coach, of course, but I'm guessing no. Two of your big three are liabilities in close games due to terrible free throw problems, all three of those guys are more injury-prone than you'd like, and by the time they gel together, they are likely to be just slightly past their primes as players. All three of these guys have been linked to coach firings, which means that any new coach is likely to be walking on eggshells, which is far from a formula for NBA championship success, either. And, well, winning an NBA championship isn't easy; a rapid infusion of talent is great, but it's not a guarantee. A Paul-Howard-Iggy squad doesn't have either of the best players on the planet (James and Kevin Durant, naturally), will require some significant salary deference in the new NBA landscape, and will need to find a home where this all makes sense.

That's not the Clippers, of course; no one goes to Donald Sterling by choice, and being the second-tier team isn't going to fit this situation. It's obviously not Denver, either; that club is going south with a quickness, and having a players' coach like George Karl run off after a #4 seed isn't going to bring anyone to town. No, there's really only one place where this all makes sense: Dallas.

They've got the ability to jettison contracts to set up the spots. They'll still have Dirk Nowitzki, who's just about perfect as an additional wheel and deferring superstar to make this work. They've got an owner that will spend money, a reasonably stable coaching environment, a full stadium, warm weather and no income tax. (By the way, this all applies to Houston, save for the Dirk issue, though maybe James Harden trumps Dirk.)

So... prepare to hate the Mavs, and to watch some great playoff battles with the Rockets, Warriors and Thunder. And for Laker and Celtic Fan to pule hardest about how this new era of team building is so, so, so unfair...

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