The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

On LeBron And The Inability To Learn

Unless something radical changes, it appears from all the reports out there that LeBron James is set to join Wade and Bosh down in Miami. For reasons I’m about to get into I don’t have the energy to write too much on this, but I’ll throw a bit out there and then move on. This decision effects 4 or so main things from my perspective and list of interests:

LeBron: I can’t criticize his choice, really. He’s going to get paid out the yin-yang in a state with extremely favorable tax rates and he’s about to win a bajillion consecutive titles for a team where he doesn’t have to be the clutch player. He’s never going to be An Immortal taking this path since he’s always going to be considered 1/3rd of a great thing instead of the leader of a great thing especially since everyone knows Wade is the clutch guy and the only one with a previous ring on this team, but evidently that doesn’t bother him. And if it doesn’t bother him, why should it bother me? I’m not going to watch a lot of Super Heat (Inferno? Firestorm? The Miami Cerberus? Team Voltron?) games, but I imagine a few of them should be fun. I wish him the best.

The NBA: At first blush and on paper this seems like an enormous win, and makes the Heat likely to be the first team in NBA history to have all 82 of their games telecast nationally on the ABCESPNasaurus. And for about 3 seasons it’s going to be MASSIVE. But given the inevitable work stoppage upcoming which may radically redesign the contract structure of the league plus the fatigue which is going to set in once it becomes clear that this team is totally unchallengeable, it’s not an obvious win over the long term for league-wide business. The NBA’s cultural interest level (and business, if you believe the pre-lockout propaganda) took a bit of a hit after the Jordan years and up until recently, partially I think because you had unchallengeable and eventually fairly unlikeable dynasties in LA and San Antonio; since then there’s been a tick upwards, partially due to independent economic reasons but partially also because there were so many interesting teams with a real shot to win it all. Now, and for the foreseeable future, there’s only 1. Once the curiosity factor fades, where are you?

I also worry that since the Celtics made their trade-based superstar grab which is obviously the model for this, we’re seeing a sea change in the way NBA players and stars especially see their options. There’s a real risk of the Old Firmization of the league where certain teams with ingrained advantages (like Miami with weather and local tax laws) will become havens for massive superstar gatherings independently arranged by the players themselves and sold as a package deal, essentially cutting out many other franchises from ever seriously competing. These days when an NBA team has zero chance of ever fielding a contender it’s usually a function of the stupidity of their ownership as with the Clippers or the Knicks; the league doesn’t have a Pittsburgh Pirates or a Caledonian Thistle, teams which because of innately limited resources can never hope to do much more than hang around.

In a superstar-driven sport like basketball, if stars get it into their heads to regularly gang up in one of three or four locations (LA, Boston, Miami, Chicago, maybe one or two more) that is essentially it for any form of competitive balance regardless of any salary-cap rules imposed by the league. If this pattern becomes entrenched (and players always, always watch what other players do) there’s no real brake to it, since the destination teams just have to keep cap room available and leave it to the players to collude their way into town. All of a sudden you move from a league which is closer to the NFL to one which is closer to the English Premier League- in existence for 17 years with only 5 champions, two of which (Blackburn and Leeds, since relegated) were one-year flukes. To put that in perspective the comparable number for the NBA is 7, with all but two (Heat, Celtics) being multiple-time champions and the Celtics also making a finals without winning, and the NBA is already a far, far more dynastic sport than most in North America. The Celtics were a special occurrence; this would be a special occurrence; 5 years down the line when Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard are all heading to LA it’s going to be just another day in a league where the fans of a lot of teams which already claim to be losing money are feeling increasingly disenfranchised. A sport like baseball can get away with a version of this in which the AL East spends more on ballplayers than the European Union spends on defense and farm subsidies combined, because baseball has enough random noise and a diversified enough playoff structure to blunt a LOT of that impact; the NBA does not.

The Nets: No real effect, I think. Getting LeBron was always a massive long shot; now that that chance is formally over they can get back to the serious work of building a team from the foundations up to compete in 5-6 years. In 6 years Brook Lopez is 28 or 29, Derrick Favors is 24 or 25, James and Wade and Bosh are all in their 30s with a lot of miles on them and the Nets have had an extended period to build up talent around their front line using the resources of a billionaire owner. The Nets have the basic right idea of how to build a team it seems, and if anything this development out to help them stick to it: if you have no chance of competing in the mid-term and you’re stuck in Newark for the short term, why not build slow, stockpile assets, aim to be respectable by the time you hit Brooklyn and competing by the middle of next decade? I remain bullish on the Nets long term assuming they don’t lose their minds and try to compete before their time. If they do, well, skip down one section to the discussion of the Knicks.

Their best plan for next season is to sit on and stockpile their cap room, use it strategically to help add assets where available the way Oklahoma City has, concentrate on player skills development and don’t pay any attention to the record. If you get an incredible offer to add a true superstar- Chris Paul or someone of that caliber- take it, but don’t jump for any overpaid name someone calls about. If this team wins 15 games next year, that’s great- it means another high lottery pick’s worth of talent added. If you’re a Nets fan the things to care about this season are the degree to which Lopez, Favors, Damion James, T Will, Courtney Lee (I guess) and others develop and progress in attitude, skills and physical areas like, for instance, Favors’ filling out his frame. Have patience- even if you aren’t the patient type naturally, recognize that trying to finish in the 8th playoff slot in the near-term is the most Pyrrhic of victories in the East. And don’t weep over missing out on Carlos Boozer or David Lee; good players both, but neither was going to make the Nets any sort of a contender this year, in fact would have done little but draw them farther down the lottery.

The Knicks: And this is where the real disaster lies. Look back in the archives and you’ll see that I have said two things consistently about the Knicks’ plans: that they, meaning Walsh and D’Antoni, should not have been judged until after this summer, and that for this plan to have made sense they had to have some sort of back-channels guarantee from someone in the top 2 free agents, Wade or LBJ, that they would be able to use their cap room on this summer. Oops. The horizon broadened briefly with the Carmelo Anthony rumors, but with the news out as well that Anthony is re-upping in Denver and Chris Paul is no longer seriously available for trade, well, that’s the ball game. The Knicks now have Amare Stoudemire, a couple of interesting role-player prospects in Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari, assorted roster fodder, maybe something for D. Lee in a S&T, no draft picks worth the name for the next two years, and few if any other movable assets beyond Eddy Curry’s expiring. They’re fucked. Again.

I’d say I was frustrated, but I’m not; I was frustrated when Scott Layden was trying this stuff, I was frustrated in the early years of Glen Sather’s working retirement, I was frustrated at the towering insanity and inanity of the Isiah Thomas regime. Now when I hear that the Rangers have offered a 4 year guaranteed contract to Derek Boogaard or that the Knicks have managed to strike out on another get-rich-quick scheme, all I can really be is resigned since there’s no longer a disconnect between the awfulness of the joint ownership of these teams and my expectations for them. The people in charge of the Garden and these two franchises simply have no idea what they’re doing as the owners and operators of sports teams. They, and the majority of people they employ, are clowns; clownish behavior is not a surprise anymore. The Knicks could have gone down the same road as the Nets or the Thunder or the Blazers or the Kings or God knows how many other teams, but they’ve been telling themselves for so long that they’re one player away, one trade away, one free agent signing away and that New Yorkers will never accept rebuilding that they probably actually believe it at this point even though there isn’t a drop of truth in any part of it. And as a result the Knicks don’t mean anything today the same way they meant nothing yesterday and for the last 10 years, and won’t mean anything tomorrow or for the next 5-8 minimum unless something radical changes. They’re just a bad team run badly, and I don’t think that will ever change under these owners at this point; honestly, they’re not really a team worthy of support, just one which gets by on the abused loyalty of some of the best fans in the sport, fans who deserve a hell of a lot more credit and respect from the Garden hierarchy than they get.

Should Donny Walsh be fired? Yes, given that he invested all of his credibility in this failed move and is now faced with a rebuilding plan which it was his express purpose to avoid and which he is apparently unwilling or unable given health and age to take on. Will he be? No. And it doesn’t really matter, because based on track record whoever would have replaced him would have been another huckster with another get-rich-quick scheme whose first move would be to trade a 2017 and a 2019 first rounder to Minnesota for Al Jefferson or something similarly ludicrous. I don’t believe that under current ownership either the Knicks or Rangers can ever be anything more or other than what they are right now: sad, desperate, star-obsessed, flailing about without a realistic long-term plan, always willing to settle for second or third best as long as it’s quicker. In fact I expect that since this get-rich-quick scheme involved two years of losing, it’s likely going to discredit “rebuilding” in Jim Dolan’s eyes regardless of whether or not that was ever seriously attempted, and the GM- whether Walsh or someone else- will be under orders to go get a star, any star, no matter the price as soon as one is available. In fact, I would put money on the Knicks trading for Gilbert Arenas (for Wilson Chandler, Toney Douglas & a future #1) in the next 2 months and finishing next season 30-52, putting the final stamp on this whole sad endeavor.

The Knicks depress me. They make me sad to be a sports fan, make me embarrassed to be a fan of theirs, make me not want to watch basketball, make me want to grow up and not follow pro athletics and read a good book instead. The Knicks are like socks for your birthday, an unwanted gift from someone who doesn’t understand you. And that’s really all I have to say about them, and all I expect to have to say for a very long while. I don’t think they’re trying as an organization; why should I try as a fan?

Bill Simmons: Fuck, sometimes he gets one right.

Obviously most of this is inoperative if all the reports turn out wrong and LeBron signs with [Not Miami], but I have my doubts.


July 8, 2010 - Posted by | Other NBA, The Nets, The NY Knicks

1 Comment »

  1. Brendan, you are the man. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read: “For reasons I’m about to get into I don’t have the energy to write too much on this” and then it turns into a 2000-plus word epic. You’re a natural writer.

    Comment by Tony M | July 8, 2010 | Reply

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