5 Perspectives on what might (or might not) happen
More and more I find myself feeling compelled to write about teenage draft picks who may never pan out, as well as moves that may never happen at the trade deadline this February or in the summer of 2010, while in the meantime, events that are actually happening right now seem to carry less and less importance.
5. Here's an example. While attending a recent game at an NBA arena, a league personnel scout and I worked through a list of possible new homes for Steve Nash based on two enormous ifs: a collapse by the Suns prior to the February 2009 trade deadline, and a subsequent decision by them to cash out for the 34-year-old Nash now rather than wait until next season, when his contract will be expiring.
We had been talking about the Suns' difficulties when we naturally began wondering about Nash's future, and whether he might be made available sooner than later. "He would become the NBA's Brett Favre,'' I declared as we worked our way through the NBA standings in search for possible Nash suitors. Here is what we came up with:
i. Magic: This would be a tough deal to make, as the Suns probably wouldn't want Jameer Nelson as Nash's replacement ... but maybe they'd like Hedo Turkoglu?
h. 76ers: Would the Suns be interested in Andre Miller's expiring contract?
g. Hawks: Atlanta could dangle a pick and Mike Bibby's expiring contract.
f. Rockets: Luis Scola and Luther Head are among those who could be offered.
e. Raptors: Would they deal emerging point guard Jose Calderon to bring home the great Canadian? Besides the seven-year age gap between Calderon and Nash, the Spaniard has base-year restrictions that would complicate any move.
d. Knicks: They could package David Lee to the Suns, then sign Nash to a less expensive extension that could lure LeBron James and others to New York in 2010.
c. Cavaliers: Imagine Nash's dealing to LeBron in transition, though the Cavs might have to surrender Mo Williams and an expiring deal while taking on an unattractive contract from Phoenix.
b. Trail Blazers: They could package Raef LaFrentz's expiring deal along with Sergio Rodriguez and/or other young talent; they could even expand the deal while taking another expensive contract off the Suns' hands.
a. Lakers: How about a package from among the likes of Lamar Odom and Chris Mihm (who have expiring contracts) and Jordan Farmar?
Fans of Nash may get worked up by this speculation. Let me emphasize, however, that it is all a lot of pap with no basis in reality. I have no inside information that Phoenix is interested in trading Nash, nor that any of these potential suitors is actually interested in acquiring him (though, wouldn't he look good in a Trail Blazers uniform?).
I ran my proposals by a league general manager. He said, "I don't see that kind of a market for Steve Nash.''
I mentioned Bibby as a possible asset to be used for Nash.
"I'm not sure there's a market for Mike Bibby either,'' the GM said. "San Antonio, Boston, Cleveland -- they're not going for Mike Bibby. Who is going to say, We're going to win a championship if we get Mike Bibby?
"Phoenix might do something for Steve Nash, but I think it would have to be for something really good. At his age, it will be tough to get a terrific young player for him. I would think they would be more likely to try to trade Amaré Stoudemire than Steve Nash.''
This is the kind of interesting discussion that drives coverage of the NBA on the Internet. It is speculation, and when engaging in it I try to write it as such. But somewhere along the way speculation often becomes more important than fact.
4. What we're missing. The big story of this NBA season revolves around LeBron's future. Will he stay in Cleveland, or is he destined to be a Knick? In previous generations, this would be an interesting back-burner plot line. But the way things work today, LeBron In 2010 appears to be all that matters.
In the meantime, the Cavs (19-3 through Thursday) are contenders to win the championship. Throughout these opening weeks, I've assumed that they were a good player short of contending this season, based on the recent NBA Finals struggles of LeBron and Kobe Bryant as the lone stars of their teams. But I am telling you now that I have been wrong.
I can also tell you that the Celtics view Cleveland as their equal, based on the backcourt addition of Williams, the growing cohesion of the Cavs' roster since the blockbuster trade of last February, and the continued improvement of LeBron himself. The Cavs are outscoring all comers by a league-leading average of 13.4 points, they're No. 4 in scoring and virtually equal to the Celtics atop the defensive stats, and they're doing all of this while LeBron plays five fewer minutes per game than last season.
Has my attention on the present been obscured by innuendo about 2010? Maybe. But instead of lathering about the Knicks and LeBron, shouldn't we be attending to the landscape here and now and ask: Who would be so crazy as to walk away from a team as dominant as the Cavs are today? (And Cleveland is near his hometown at that.)
3. The draft is the NBA's black hole. I cover this story because I know the readers eat it up, and nobody can accuse me of not trying as my mock draft last June was relatively accurate. But let's be honest: The draft is a weak version of what it used to be, when the best talents spent three or four years in college before turning pro. It's preposterous to imagine a rookie winning the league MVP, as Wes Unseld did in 1968-69.
Most of the players who enter the draft are too young and unschooled to contribute at the NBA level. They are years away from becoming useful members of this lucrative society, which is why the NBA draft bears more in common with baseball's draft than with the NFL's.
Every now and then someone like LeBron comes along, but otherwise the draft is a severe futures market. The quality of the draft has never been worse, and yet interest is at an all-time high. I don't understand it.
2. How it came to be. Why is the future of the NBA more important than its present?
As the NBA grew more valuable, and the players negotiated more money for themselves, the league had to come up with new ways to prevent its owners from spending themselves out of existence. The salary cap led to the luxury tax, which has created a system in which the contract of a player is often more important than his talent. It is a system in which trades cannot be manufactured unless salaries of equal value are exchanged (with a few loopholes, of course).
Teams used to trade players of similar ability. Now they trade contracts of similar value, or they maneuver those contracts to clear cap space for 2010.
Allen Iverson is among the most charismatic players in the world. In acquiring him last month, were the Pistons interested more in his talent or in his expiring contract?
For a league that thrives on the personalities of its players, the valuation of talent has been a dehumanizing trend.
"It's become such a meat market that cap space and 2010 is all the public wants to talk about,'' said an NBA advance scout who spends the season on the front lines traveling to watch a different game every night or two. "There are a few stars in the league that everyone would love to have, and it seems like the rest of the players are just numbers that get moved around. I wonder how the players feel about it.''
I suppose they view it as a small price to be suffered in exchange for the money they're paid.
The other part of this equation is the role of the Internet and the nanosecond news cycle. In this virtual world in which we must always be looking ahead to the next big thing, the medium has become the message.
1. Will we ever learn to reverse this trend and live in the moment? I don't know. Maybe if I ask a psychic ...
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