Meadow Muffins of the Mind

The droppings of some guy's imagination.

Tag: free agency

The LeBachelor

It could not be more damaging to the career of Andrew Dice Clay if it had been made as a documentary by someone who hated him.

- Roger Ebert on Dice Rules

He could have just as easily had been describing LeBron James’ portrayal of LeBron James in ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary “LeBron James: Decision”.  Wait?  It’s not a 30 for 30?  My bad.  I will admit – I watched.  As an NBA fan and a self proclaimed pop culture aficionado, how could I not?  Besides getting the news story – that he is going to the Heat, making them the favorites in the East even if they get 9 cab drivers to occupy the remaining roster spots – the special was reality TV at its worst and most inevitable.

Indeed, this could not have done more to hurt James’ image than an expose by somebody who despised him.  That this production was devised by his management team and midwifed by ESPN makes it utterly flabbergasting.  If the World Cup was ESPN at its best, this is the Worldwide Leader might have been rock bottom.  Given that they were the network behind “Who’s Hot?” and Dick Vitale’s xenophobic rants on the NBA draftcast, that’s saying something.

Now, the first thing TS mentioned to me was that all he wants to do is win – isn’t that like other ath-a-letes?  After all, as a Celtics fan, isn’t this the same as what happened in 2008 when the Celtics landed Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen?  If one wants to make that argument, I can see it to a degree.  However, Kevin Garnett was one of the 5 best players of the 2000s, and was on a team that was below .500.  So was Ray Allen and Pierce.  They were in pretty horrendous situations – and all past their primes.  The strategy employed by Boston was VERY high risk – that it has gotten a title and a runner up is the high end outcome.  On the other hand, LeBron, at the height of his powers, is leaving a contender (for all the bashing the Cavaliers deservedly get as an organization, this team won 128 games in 2 seasons and only lost to teams that were arguably at least as good as they were) to form a super team.  Bill Simmons posited that this was all decided as early as 2007.  “A few weeks after the 2008 Summer Olympics, Someone Who Knows Things told me the following rumor: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Chris Paul became such good friends during the 2007 Olympic trials, and then during their 2008 Olympics excursion in Beijing, that they actually made a pact in China to play together.”  In other words, the best basketball player in the world might be a fifteen year old girl.  Futhermore, where is the urge to beat the best?  At their peak, I reckon Bird wanted to beat Magic, not join him.  This whole thing reveals the sort of competitor he actually is.  In other words – not what we thought.

But enough of the competitive ramifications – the Heat will be good, period.  What one marvels at is the utter tone deafness of LeBron’s team during the entire run.  For instance, there is the very real possibility that LeBron has been sitting on this news for a long time.  But instead of a presscon and full paged ad to Cleveland fans, like a normal player might do (ok, maybe even a tweet) – LeBron’s team put together a one hour show – hired noted hack Jim Gray to interview him, and sold it to ESPN.  ESPN of course, got exactly what it wanted.  He set it at the Greenwich, Connecticut Boys and Girls Club – the noted trick of surrounding him with kids so no really inflammatory questions can be asked (not that Gray, on LeBron’s payroll, would do that) – leaving open the possibility of Vince McMahon showing up.

But alas no Vince McMahon, Shawn Michaels, Brett Michaels or any other possibility of actual entertainment or insight followed.  The studio show had league partner Stuart Scott and the ABC NBA crew of John Barry, Wilbon etc.  The possibility of asking him why he chose a national TV forum to publicly urinate on the people of Cleveland was basically zero.  They made empty headed happy talk – they had correspondents at all the relvant NBA cities.  I remember thinking how absurd the depiction of the chase for Jesus Shuttlesworth was in He Got Game – it turns out that Spike Lee was 12 years too early.

Anyway then, Jim Gray started with his questions – idiotic small talk, and it took a FULL 25 MINUTES before LeBron made the announcement.  He confessed he did not tell any of the other pursuing teams until now.  He announced his departure “I am taking my skills to South Beach” and that was that – except there were 30 more minutes of air time to fill.  The only satisfactory moment was his uncomfortable look throughout the interview and especially at a burning jersey shown to him from Cleveland.

Now, Cleveland fans should not be burning jerseys, and Dan Gilbert is a spectacular hypocrite.  After all LeBron changed basketball teams – he didn’t flood Lake Erie with crude oil or anything.  He has the right to change employers – as we all do.  HOWEVER, the choice to go on national television and publicly embarass his fans by leaving them (in other words, he turned heel, he broke up on the jumbotron … that is a bit less forgiveable.  How did his team think it was a good idea?  It was the greatest emasculation a city’s sports fans could ever have – and for no reason.  What was LeBron thinking?  We’ll never know.

Dare to Be Stupid – NBA Free Agency, LeBron Today

FINALLY, some news!

Orlando Magic sign Chris Duhon for 4 years, $15 million: Chris Duhon once had a 20 assist game.  He actually did a fairly good job running the Knicks D’Antoni attack until the sheer volume of minutes killed him.  He is not a starter for a good NBA team – but can he be a backup for a great one?  Absolutely.  He defends, he is not a penetrator – and while he is only a league average 3-point shooter, he can make it enough to space the floor the way the Magic want.  At the price, a totally reasonable signing – though the years are more than I would give a backup.

Boston Celtics re-sign Ray Allen for 2 years, $20 million: This deal puts Ray and KG on the same contract schedule.  When the Celtics re-signed Paul Pierce, they declared they would ride these guys out as long as is feasible.  While there is some risk there – honestly it was not a bad option.  They could have let Pierce and Allen walk and be under the cap and in the position to get a big name – but there was no guarantee it would work.  If Chicago – which offered a great scenario for the Big 3 free agents – end up with none of them, how can Boston?  I guess people are afraid of the cold.  As such, Ray Allen is paid well reasonably here – and the years are there.  The 2nd year is his option.

Chicago Bulls sign Carlos Boozer for 5 years, $80 million: Boozer has a history of missed games.  That is a problem.  If he is injured through the life of this contract – don’t say I didn’t warn you.  That said, in THIS insane market, the Bulls got a screaming bargain – if you just look at productivity and not durability.  The Bulls have needed a post scorer – they have one.  They needed someone who can work a pick and roll with a dynamic point guard – they have one.  Boozer looked bad against the Lakers because of his lack of length – but there are 28 other teams in the league where it is not such a latent problem.  The Bulls with a couple more smaller moves could set up to be a Top 4 team in the East.

Miami Heat sign Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh for some amount of American dollars: I was surprised they did not ride in on a tandem bicycle for their interview.  What sort of analysis is necessary here?  This is a great move for the Heat.  That said, without some heft on the bench – this is not enough to break into the Orlando-Boston tier in the East.  Right now it is a 2.5 person team.  Now with these guys they could attract some people to join them in tax free Florida – but they haven’t yet.  However, if they add that LeBron dude – all bets are off.

Now, as for what LeBron should do?  There was word of him going to the Heat – at this point it’s all speculation.  Frankly, I think for the league and for the sport – and for whatever his legacy is – it is probably the stupidest option:

  1. Dwayne Wade has already won a title.  Does LeBron need to ride his coattails in Miami to win another?  Does LeBron need to be a final piece to some other team’s puzzle?  I know I am being unfair, but that is the perception he will have to deal with.
  2. Was there really this clamoring for a dream team?  I mean these guys won a gold medal.  We know they are good.  The Chicago Bulls 72 win team was awe inspiring – but it was the culmination (largely) of a 10 year run.  The essential pieces stayed true – and were Bulls the entire time.  This is much more of a mercenary soldiers-for-hire sort of thing.  Not exactly inspiring.
  3. The Really Big Three set themselves up to be regarded like the 2003 Real Madrid side or any Chelsea football team of yore.  The pressure will be incalculable and perhaps the joy will be minimal.  Granted, the 2009 Yankees seemed to enjoy it – and the 2008 Boston Celtics were composed in a somewhat similar manner, but the Celtics were not sure if their moves would win a title.  This just does not seem like something a true competitor would do.  Indeed, Kobe’s legacy will be secure.

The special is being aired from the Greenwich, Connecticut Boys and Girls Club – near where the Knicks practice.  Is that a better indicator?  Maybe.  The Knicks make much more sense on a different level.  With Stoudemire as a #2, that is good enough to win a title with some smart filling in on the edges.  The Nets have enough young talent that LeBron could be the straw that stirs the drink.  Chicago has always been a great bet to turn it around quickly too.  Dallas would have been the most fun choice for him – but I am surprised neither side looked at each other harder.

Dare to be Stupid – More NBA Free Agency

The reporting has been a little slow lately.  Maybe it’s the Independence Day holiday – maybe just the nature of the beast and everyone waiting for LeBron.  But a couple more moves:

Atlanta Hawks sign Joe Johnson for 6 years $120 million: I wrote about this already. This is a mind bendingly stupid deal by the Hawks.  It’s not like they sell out the building – the Hawks have always been a tough draw, and Atlanta is probably the worst pro sports market in the United States anyway.  The Hawks are a good team – good enough to make the 2nd round in each of the last two playoffs.  However, they lost 8 straight in that round by double figures.  As constituted, this team cannot make the leap.  But what have they done?  Replaced Mike Woodson with his assistant who might keep their system – which is good but also has bogged down in the playoffs.  Then they re-sign their money man without any sort of hometown discount.  Basically Johnson is back solely for the coin.  And one can easily argue Josh Smith is their best player – and will be in the future.  The Hawks have doomed themselves to a very limited ceiling for the foreseeable future.

New York Knicks sign Amare Stoudemire for 5 years, $100 million: On some basic level the Knicks overpaid for Amare here.  Amare is a poor defender, and showed some low effort in the Lakers series.  He could be taken out of games at times.  But he is a prodigious inside scorer, and is returning to the system where he became a household name.  In addition, the Knicks HAD to land a big fish.  Given how they have sold this strategy to their fans, and given how little hope Knicks fans have felt for years – they NEEDED to get a big catch this offseason.  Stoudemire certainly qualifies, and will probably justify his deal.  There is also some room for the Knicks to go get someone else.  This move does not make the Knicks a title contender – but now they have a chance to put that sort of team out there – whether it be with the rest of this offseason or next year.

Boston Celtics re-sign Paul Pierce for 4 years $60 million: The haggling on the fourth year was about how guaranteed it would be.  The details when they come out will be interesting.  That said, Pierce has gone through a lot.  He survived a stabbing, and never asked to leave Boston.  And while he is not the player he was, his virtues (size and shooting ability) are durable and his secondary skills offer value.  This is an old team – but torching it was not a viable cap option – not with Garnett being unmovable through 2012.  So the Celtics and Pierce got a mutually beneficial agreement, and the Celtics have a chance to do some rebuilding on the fly with Rasheed’s contract hopefully.

Dallas Mavericks re-sign Dirk Nowitzki for 4 years $80 million: Dirk is one of the ten best players in the league, and his biggest skills (shooting, rebounding, being tall) assure he will be a viable player for far beyond this deal.  Mavericks and he also good mutual agreement.  In addition, if Dallas wanted to take a long odds stab at LeBron – they have a lot of enticing pieces to offer.

Dare to be Stupid – NBA Free Agency after Two Days

Some more moves:

Toronto Raptors extend Amir Johnson for 5 years, 34 million: This is a mid-level type of deal for the dude who will be pressed into duty by Chris Bosh’s likely departure.  He has shown potential in Detroit, but they let him go.  Potential has been all that we have had to go on.  Look at last season: 6 pts, 5 rebounds, 3 fouls a game in 18 minutes a game.  In other words, he can be productive, but he has trouble staying on the floor.  I applaud the Raptors to a degree – because they are placing a bet on his growth.  But this is high risk to say the least.

Milwaukee Bucks re-sign John Salmons for 5 years, 39 million: I don’t like the years here.  Salmons is not a franchise changer, but he helped the Bucks tremendously – and the team needs all the wing help they can get.  That said, given the hilarious contracts being awarded so far, Salmons is actually compensated pretty fairly.

Memphis Grizzlies re-sign Rudy Gay for 5 years, 81 million: Rudy Gay is 24 and has the chance to improve.  He is not a bad player – and the Grizzlies wanted to re-up him to avoid a really poisonous offer sheet.  However, now he is max salary – when he doesn’t deserve it.  Honestly, this deal is a reflection of what is wrong with the current NBA structure – the individual salary limit.  There is no way to differentiate between LeBron and Rudy Gay after some point on the salary scale.  And thus we get the high price of high uncertainty.

Phoenix Suns re-sign Channing Frye for 5 years, 30 million: Clearly, the Suns have accepted that Amare Stoudemire is gone.  This is too bad on one level – few players are as dynamic at their best.  However, Stoudemire had a huge injury red flag, has been a fairly high maintenance guy – and in key spots has shown an unwillingness to get tough (like the Lakers series).  I don’t fault the Suns – and their contingencies are solid.  Frye is one-dimensional – but he sure is good at that dimension (shooting).  For 6 million a year – a quality big who can stick the three ball – you could do a lot worse.

Phoenix Suns sign Hakim Warrick for 4 years, 18 million: The Suns are paying backup money for a poor man’s Amare Stoudemire.  Warrick can shoot midrange and he can dunk.  He can’t defend – but he was buried in his last couple of stops.  Warrick clearly has ability – and is a good upside candidate in this system.  They got him at a good rate.

Dare to Be Stupid – NBA Free Agency, Initial Notions

New Jersey Nets trade Yi Jianlian to the Washington Wizards for cash: Another straight salary dump.  The Nets are positioning themselves to make the biggest splash possible.  With Ivan Drago seeming wanting to put his stamp on the team as soon as possible, this makes sense.  For the Wizards, Yi has a measure of upside, and Andray Blatche has a broken ankle.  Nobody gets hurt here.

So, armed with cash and cap space, we see teams gunning for this unmatched Class of 2010.  LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Amare Stoudemire, Chris Bosh, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Dirk Nowitzki – just a total who’s who of star NBA players of the last decade – and they are all free agents.  So the anticipation for today’s first day to talk to free agents has been palpable.  Add to it the backdrop of a lockout and drastically changed salary structure next offseason – and for a lot of guys this is the last chance for life changing money.  None of the huge chess pieces have moved yet.  However, a few deals have been struck, and guess what?  NBA GMs are like stupid drunk bachelors at the Cheetah Club, just waving money at any scantily clad FA walking their way.  To wit:

Hawks offer Joe Johnson 6 years, $119 million: The Hawks by maxing out Joe Johnson have just tied up their cap, gone up against the luxury tax threshold and have pinned their hopes to a 29 year old who was good enough to lead the Hawks to 8 straight double digit losses in the second round of playoffs.  As Charles Barkley would say, turrble … and this was just the beginning.

Milwaukee Bucks sign Drew Gooden for 5 years, $32 million: Gooden for the full midlevel??  Milwaukee needs size, but did they need it this badly?  John Hammond is a very smart GM considering the shrewd moves he made last year to get the Bucks to be a legitimately sexy team.  Drew Gooden gets a full five year deal – the Drew Gooden who is notorious for forgetting plays – the Drew Gooden who will be on his 9th team in his 9th season in the league??  Him?!!

Minnesota Timberwolves sign Darko Milicic for 4 years $20 million (final year partially guaranteed): Even with the partially guaranteed fourth year, this is an amazing deal for Darko to land – not so much in dollars but in job security.  For a guy who had one good half season (and only by his low standards) in Minnesota to suddenly warrant 4 years of job security is amazing.  Considering he has been accused of lacking passion for basketball – even worse.  Of course this is the team that drafted 18 small forwards last week.

Memphis Grizzlies decline tender on Ronnie Brewer: A starting caliber ace defending two guard can be locked up for a modest league average sort of wage – forcing teams to spend a 1st round pick to sign him … and Memphis let him go why?  It is easy to blame Chris Wallace, but petty clearly someone else is doing this.

OK, one piece of good news …

Minnesota Timberwolves sign Nikova Pekovic for 3 years, $13 million: apparently very good in Europe, a former 2nd round pick draft and stash.  Good value here.  I mean even if he is average, $4.3 million is a good price for average.

The Breaks of the Game

My favorite baseball book ever was Peter Gammons’ Beyond the Sixth Game, which starts with a team that was the finest young team in baseball, the 1975 Boston Red Sox.  One of the things that time has forgotten a little bit is that when these Sox lost to the Cincinnati Reds, the perception was that this would not be the last big result for this bunch.  Fred Lynn had won the Rookie of the Year and the MVP (and unlike Ichiro, was actually a first time major leaguer).  Carlton Fisk would go on to the Hall of Fame as would Jim Rice – Dwight Evans would be a Gold Glove winner.  The future was so rosy – but then free agency became codified in the sport at the same time.  Gammons explores how the sport fundamentally changed – how market prices started to take over as players had evolved from the reserve-clause indentured servants of yore  to free agents actively pursuing to be paid according to their marginal revenue.  Gammons looks at the league from the inside and out, how it changed locker rooms, how it changed management’s view of players and how different teams coped with the gameboard suddenly changing.

What Gammons captured in Beyond the Sixth Game, David Halberstam captures with remarkable reportage in his The Breaks of the Game. The team is the 1980 Portland Trailblazers.  The team of course, won the title in 1977 – with some perfect chemistry it seemed, Bill Walton at the height of his powers, and Maurice Lucas providing some key help, and a starting lineup of guys age 26 and under.  Like the 1975 Red Sox, the future seemed limitless.  Like the MLB of that time, money was changing thing, and the ABA/NBA merger caused uncertainty.  Halberstam, as he does in all of his books, narrates the season almost as a novel.  There is reporting, but it all flows very naturally.  Every player gets some background, the coach Jack Ramsay is profiled in segments.  But what Halberstam does is bring the individuals to the narrative.

For instance, consider Kermit Washington, the Blazers Power Forward.  Halberstam unobtrusively describes how he became part of compensation (part of the settlement of the merger was that teams who lost free agents were entitled compensation as determined by the commissioner).  But he also discusses a man with a self confidence problem, who learned how to believe himself – who seeked out coaching – who had a home in San Diego he was settling in when he suddenly got traded to Portland.  Bobby Gross, Lenny Wilkens, Bill Walton, Moses Malone (imagine if the Blazers kept him!) all get some dedicated pages in the same vein.  Halberstam’s writing is full of these nuggets.  However, he also talks about television, how the NBA over expanded, how it mismanaged their television dealings – and how CBS had to deal with trying to sell a black game to a white corporate audience.  The book’s narrative is clean – there are not individual chapters dedicated to these individual threads, Halberstam works in and out – while following the Blazers around, trying to handle contract disputes, individual agendas and trying to hang on to the last vestiges of the 1977 glory.

Halberstam was a great reporter and writer, and for basketball books The Breaks of the Game reads so naturally and covers so much.  It is a great read.

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