But first, why Darren Collison's career is only now getting started.
Unlikely Savior: For a starless trade, Wednesday's four-team swap sure had some big names. And while Tyreke Evans and Stephen Curry were the best rookies of 2009-10, Darren Collison -- the best player moved Wednesday -- has probably had the greatest impact. (Brandon Jennings gets votes there, too.)
Somehow, Collison's success made other GMs and rumor-mongers believe eternal MVP candidate Chris Paul could be available at the right price. That's a real coup, especially for a low first-round pick. Evans knocked Kevin Martin off the pedestal and out of town in Sacramento, but Martin's no Paul in terms of star power and what he meant to the city. Collison stepped in as an injury replacement and essentially showed observers Paul isn't the only point guard who can run the Hornets.
That shouldn't be a surprise -- the Hornets aren't special, far from it -- but thanks to New Orleans' remarkable lack of a credible talent pipeline before Collison, and the long string of previous crummy Paul back-ups, Collison seemed like a discovery.
This isn't to say Collison is all smoke and mirrors. He's a good point guard, which is just what Indiana desperately needs. Danny Granger is a fantastic scorer, but everyone else on that roster needs help. Collison is ready to provide it. The team's thinner than ever after giving up Troy Murphy, but Jim O'Brien finally has a perimeter set to work with. This is good for everyone in the world except Earl Watson.
What Collison has to guard against -- if he can even do anything at all -- is the power of hype. The Pacers aren't exactly the most fertile soil, even if there's a place for his talents. But given the circumstances of his departure, and his challenge to New Orleans' hierarchy, he'll be met with rose parades and Most Improved Player predictions. His NBA career has been a dream so far, but his old mentor Paul knows better than most just how quickly the roses can turn to tomatoes, how fast the escalator of hype becomes the elevator of unmet expectations.
It's almost as if the NBA isn't real until you're a starter. As a backup to a great player, Collison had the easiest job in the league. Now it gets difficult. (TZ)
On Heroes, Villains, and What's Left In-Between: Yesterday while perusing the blogosphere with a feather in my cap, I saw that the The Big Lead had big plans for LeBron James. LeBron's "I'm taking names" tweet may have set off a whole new wave of public ridicule, but TBL was all about James embracing the hate, instead of the usual rush to placate all parties.
For TBL's Jason McIntyre, James had shown the guts to become an "anti-hero." Tiger Woods, another athlete who went from beloved to reviled, would be wise to do the same thing. Really, these two had no other choice.
I generally find LeBron's Twitter to really creepy, but salute it for the same reasons I did his Cleveland-less newspaper ad. And, as J.A. Adande points out, James isn't exactly breaking new ground here. Michael Jordan has always kept an enemies list, and if you don't think Kobe Bryant does, you're living in 2003.
I don't really get, though, how this behavior -- whether it's coming from the heart or part of a rebranding effort -- makes for an anti-hero. Anti-heroes are good guys forced to act like bad guys; occasionally, they're bad guys who aren't as bad as other bad guys. We root for them knowing that it makes us complicit, since the ends justify the means. LeBron isn't Dirty Harry, or the gun-crazy drifters Clint Eastwood played in his starkest Westerns. TBL is saying that James will, through sheer awesomeness, compel us to root for the dark side; Charles Bronson in Death Wish is neither charismatic nor a villain.
Tiger Woods is a jerk, not a crusader against the golf establishment. If LeBron would come out and say that he was trying to wrest power away from incompetent owners (word to Dave Zirin), he might fit the bill. Instead, he doesn't like that people don't like him; he's living out Nas and Puffy's self-aggrandizing (and NSFW) "Hate Me Now".
That's a far cry from Charles Barkley, Allen Iverson, Ron Artest, or anyone else I'd consider nominating. You know, two other guys who got confused and turned seeker when the bottom dropped out of their Q rating. (BS)
The New Journeyman: Courtney Lee has a new home ... again. He'll put on his third uniform, this one emblazoned "Rockets," as he begins his third NBA season. Clearly, he's on his way to that well-worn basketball title of "journeyman."
But "journeyman" doesn't have to be a bad word, and maybe Lee's the one to redefine the term.
To be a journeyman implies that there's no place for a player anywhere, that he's a mercenary for hire (Kevin Willis) or, less generously, a vital cog in only the Trade Machine dynamics of the modern NBA (Devean George). Lee fits neither definition; he's a good, young player any team would love to have, but who keeps getting dealt in bigger-picture trades as an asset (not as salary cap fluff).
It has to bug Lee, because, for one, always being traded is no way to build demand, and building demand is the entire goal of a rookie on his first contract. Second, it's annoying to move and to have to meet new co-workers, learn a new system, figure out how to deal with a new coach. It's clearly far less optimal than staying in one place and being allowed to improve organically. You re-pot a fern too many times and it'll wilt, guaranteed.
But let's be honest: most casual fans only know Lee as the guy wearing the mask from the 2009 playoffs. Even then, they probably can't place his name. Perhaps he's the player to prove that, despite being pretty good, you can remain invisible enough to avoid a negative stigma altogether. (TZ)
Fly Me to the Mean: How quickly we forget what a long, strange trip its been for Trevor Ariza. So he's not a featured scorer who can create his own shot -- that became clear early on last season. That was wishful thinking to begin with, and yet this "failure" is being treated like Ariza's a lottery bust.
Quick, when was he drafted? Try 43rd overall (by Isiah, naturally), after a single season at UCLA. He joined the Knicks at 19, and was impressive enough to crack Larry Brown's rotation. This is the same Larry Brown who was killed in New York for his refusal to start young, but older than Ariza, Channing Frye.
At this point, Ariza was a certifiable find -- a steal, even. Then, after landing in Orlando as part of the deal for Steve Francis, he failed to progress.
Now Ariza is headed to New Orleans, where he'll run with Chris Paul, get his open shots because of Chris Paul, and likely guard the opposing team's highest scorer every night. He'll be everything James Posey was supposed to be for that team, except more spry and propulsive than Posey ever was.
This isn't a question of whether Ariza is a lovable underdog you should never count out or bet against. More that, with the career he's had so far, who really has any idea what's next? (BS)
The Works is a column written by Bethlehem Shoals (@freedarko) and Tom Ziller (@teamziller).