Tricks of the Trade Create Loophole Big Enough to Drive Through
All in a month's time.
Where's Ron Popeil when you need him? This scam tops the pocket fisherman.
This is merely one of the wonders of the NBA, where amazing things happen in the oddest of ways.
Two years ago, Keith Van Horn had retired yet still was traded. If that isn't amazing enough, he then was paid millions to come out of retirement and not sit on the bench of his new team.
Where can the rest of us get this deal?
Many years ago Mad magazine did a cartoon feature on a game show it called "Spend Money Like the Government." The winner spent double the price of a tank for many tanks, then stored them in a warehouse for eternity.
Spend money like the NBA means dump players yet still hope fans show up while the team builds for the next free agent offseason when hopefully one or two of the bigger superstars will collude and join your team.
This is the Knicks' strategy. They're a bad team, 19-34, and they unloaded one of their better young players (Jordan Hill) and a lottery pick for a chance to sign LeBron James and a chance to sign another free agent. Gutting a team is a pretty curious way to lure a guy. There are no assurances (outside of arrogance or pride, depending on the point of view) that James will go to New York.
The Clippers actually have cleared cap space for James. The Clippers. Enough said.
Spend money like the NBA also means trade a guy on the last year of his contract, then hope he gets bought out of that contract by the new team so he can join the old team 30 days later.
It would all seem silly if it weren't so true.
This week we have the case of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, the longtime and much beloved Cleveland Cavaliers center traded to Washington for Antawn Jamison. The angst that came from the Cavs following the trade was palpable. GM Danny Ferry nearly broke down when discussing it. James said he wasn't OK with losing the man they call Z. And Shaquille O'Neal expressed similar sentiments, saying Ilgauskas welcomed him with open arms.
But the safest bet this side of Vegas has Washington buying out the remainder of Ilgauskas' contract and making him a free agent. This would allow him to sign with any team he chooses.
The Cavs refused to talk about this issue, stating only that they respected Ilgauskas and wished him the best of luck. Interesting to wish a guy "luck" ... kind of an indication he's going to NBA Armageddon.
But folks around the league have noticed -- and not all are happy.
"They're going to get Ilgauskas back," Lakers coach Phil Jackson told reporters before Thursday night's game against Boston. "It's going to be one of those scenarios that we see in the NBA where you ship a player out, you get another player, then your player retires or they pay him off and then he comes back in 30 days.
"I don't know what that does for the league. I think that's kind of a weird situation."
Then Celtics coach Doc Rivers weighed in.
"I have a problem with that," he said.
On one level, these statements are laughable. Jackson and the Lakers were beneficiaries of one of the great trade giveaways in recent memory when they acquired Pau Gasol. The deal looks better now that Marc Gasol is with Memphis (a town can never have enough Gasols), but at the time it was aggravated grand larceny (as opposed to the grand larceny the Cavs are about to pull off).
Too, a few years ago the Celtics did the get-the-guy-back-after-the-buyout routine with Gary Payton. "I loved it three years ago," Rivers quipped, "but now I think it sucks. I think it's a terrible deal."
Thankfully, Rivers was joking. But he did offer the opinion that the NBA might want to look at this ... err ... aberration in its Collective Bargaining Agreement.
"I don't know what you do," he said. "Just not allow them to go back to the same team or whatever. ... I do think that will be changed eventually, but I do have a problem with it."
The Cavs are not at fault here. They are merely using the rules to their advantage. Detroit did it last season, trading Antonio McDyess and then re-signing him after he took a buyout. It happened with Joe Smith being traded in the offseason for Mo Williams, then re-joining the Cavs after a buyout. The Cavs are wise to use the rules to their advantage. God knows the rules could cause them take a sledgehammer to the gut this offseason.
And there's no guarantee Ilgauskas comes back (cough, cough). As his agent said on WKNR radio in Cleveland on Thursday, the Cavs have put themselves in the position where they have to wait and see (cough, cough, cough).
The only way they could have avoided it?
Include Wally Szczerbiak in the deal. Where's Wally Szczerbiak now, you ask? Rehabbing a knee that needed surgery. He's not under contract with anyone, but he's not filed retirement papers and the Cavs own his "Bird rights" (as opposed to his "bee rights") so they could have included him in the deal by doing a sign-and-trade.
It's what happened in 2008, when Dallas acquired Jason Kidd by signing a retired Van Horn for $4.3 million and trading him. He earned that money and never played a second.
A guy earns $4.3 million not to play. Another guy gets traded and might (cough, cough) return to the team he loves in a month.
NBA action. Simply fantastic.