But first, Danny Granger and the balance of justice.
Why Indy Had to Rise: It remains to be seen whether Trevor Ariza will do right by NOLA. Or, to put it another way, whether Chris Paul will be one step closer to not leaving, and the era of the super-teams kept at bay. Certainly, the Hornets think so; in trading Darren Collison, they parted with the league's ultimate contingency plan. But the Paul situation was getting thorny, the man wanted some help, and circumstances demanded sooner, not later.
Except while all eyes were on Paul, wondering if he would squander valuable prime on a team treading water, we forgot about Indiana's Danny Granger.
It's okay, most people do. And unlike Paul, Granger isn't in contention for greatest ever at his position. Yet the new, harsh logic of the NBA goes something like this: the finest players are entitled to quality teams, or else, they will join forces and form encampments of their own.
Just because Danny Granger wasn't asking for a trade, or seen as likely to make trouble before his 2014 free agency, it doesn't mean he lives in a different league.
Chris Paul may have Trevor Ariza to toss alley-oops to, but Granger -- who should see the playoffs a few times before he retires -- is the star whose needs were really addressed. The irony, of course, is that we had all spent the last month guessing at Paul's state of mind.
Granger, however shoddy the Pacers were, never raised a fuss or forced the issue. And yet he ended up the biggest winner in the trade.
Okay, it was the Pacers who won, since the team filled their most glaring need with a top-flight player. Teams are bigger than their stars; Collison could go on to surpass Granger; no one man is bigger than an entire roster, a whole that a point guard can bring real coherence to. Yet getting Darren Collison showed that the Pacers have been paying attention.
You can't take your stars for granted, or leave them high and dry as other teams load up. Hate the Heat if you want; it's because of them that Indiana made sure to make a move. In the end, it's not about player demands, empowerment, expectations, or labor issues. It's not about competitive imbalance. It's about teams realizing that players want to win.
Yes, I know, making it too easy to win is a sin against the sport. The more important principle at play, though, is that talent is a terrible thing to waste. That goes for players who never become who they are; it should hold equally for franchises lucky enough to land Danny Granger late in the first round. He's shown them loyalty by committing long-term. The least they can do is reward him as they would a Chris Paul potentially looking to bounce. (BS)
In Praise of Gus Johnson: It's good that Fran Blinebury wrote his excellent profile of Gus Johnson last week. Not only did it introduce readers to the mystery man of the 2010 Hall of Fame class. For me, it meant a chance to finally see footage of one of my favorite figures from the past.
I realize that's a preposterous thing to say, seeing as liking a basketball player practically demands seeing him in action, becoming acquainted with his style of play. Johnson, though, is one of those figures who crops up again and again in books, articles and interviews, always with freakish, surreal descriptors around it.
Gus Johnson was a larger-than-life character -- insanely athletic, flamboyant on and off the court, he starts to come into focus as something between a folk hero and minor tragedy.
Blinebury hit all the right notes -- the tall tales, the overblown comparisons, and even the sense that Johnson was before his time. But what makes Johnson such a fascinating figure isn't just that he's been largely neglected up until now. It's that, to hear the old-timers tell it, "Honeycomb" barely got a chance to show the world his incredible powers. He went to junior college before dominating the glass in the NCAA at Idaho; by the time Johnson entered the NBA, he was 24.
Johnson got in eight quality years with Baltimore, but was plagued by knee problems throughout. For a player who depended so heavily on his leaping and elastic power, this kind of injury was a slow death. It's astounding that he averaged a double-double throughout this period, even as his body gradually deteriorated.
It almost places him in the same category as Connie Hawkins, or baseball's Pete Reiser -- a sublime athlete who, unfortunately, was never really there in the first place.
That's why, in a way, I feel like I still haven't seen Gus Johnson play. Eric Freeman noted that Johnson looks tentative, even hobbled, in some of this footage. If anything, it hammers home the point that the Johnson of myth and legend existed only briefly. To not see Gus Johnson play is, in a sense, to truly appreciate him. (BS)
In Praise of Walt Bellamy and the 1960 USA Basketball Team: As is the case with Shoals and Gus Johnson, I have never seen more than a few YouTube and NBA TV clips of the great Walt Bellamy playing ball. My love affair with Bells is less style-based than it is about the ethos of Walt's career. He's remembered perhaps as the third wheel of the Russell vs. Wilt era, a brilliant megalith with terrible timing.
He entered the league in 1961, just as Russell and Wilt hit their stride. Bells averaged 31 and 19 that season, winning Rookie of the Year. That would be the only award (other than a few All-Star appearances) of his NBA career. But that's not because of some Grant Hill-like disintegration or a Michael Ray Richardson self-detonation. He just couldn't top the exploits of the game's biggest men, no matter what he did.
There's a certain Garnettian quality attached to him, like he was always trapped. Of course, Kevin Garnett was trapped only by a massive contract on a badly-run franchise; Bellamy was trapped by the time-space continuum. The latter is slightly more difficult to overcome. Russell retired by the time Bells turned 30, and while Wilt hung around for a minute, the new crop (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Willis Reed, Wes Unseld) had arrived. Bellamy was still effective in Atlanta, but the damage has been done, and Bells remained far enough out of the spotlight to be practically invisible to future generations of fans.
That's why I love the Hall's induction of the 1960 USA Basketball team -- it's an excuse to talk about Walt Bellamy, my favorite player I've never seen play. Bellamy starred with Jerry West, Oscar Robertson and Jerry Lucas as the United States trounced all comers, winning the team's eight games by an average margin of 42 points. Bellamy wasn't the focal point; Oscar and Lucas were the leading scorers.
That team is so amazing, in retrospect. The Dream Team of 1992 came about when most of the American stars were experienced veterans; the youngest player not named Christian Laettner was Scottie Pippen, who was already 26. The 1960 team, however, was filled with youngsters. Oscar was just 21, Bells 21, West 22, Lucas 20, Terry Dischinger 19.
The 1960 team would be the equivalent of the 2004 U.S. team, led by LeBron, Wade, Carmelo and Amar'e and coached by someone other than Larry Brown, winning the gold. You may remember such a team won only bronze (and that was with Tim Duncan in tow.) If we champion the 2008 U.S. team for redeeming our nation's basketball soul, we really should recognize the 1960 squad for never needing to be saved in the first place. (TZ)
Building Puzzles With Dell Demps: If any team has taken heat for the Darren Collison-Trevor Ariza-Troy Murphy trade this week, it's been the Hornets. Folks are wondering why a team would trade a fine, young, cheap player for an overpaid defender with an ugly jumper. Day traders and stamp collectors (not mutually exclusive populations, I know) would explain this in four simple words: Buy low, sell high. I'm neither a day trader or a stamp collectors, so I'll go a bit deeper on why the trade makes sense for New Orleans.
In basketball, you have to play five guys at a time. If one of those players really sucks, that's going to hurt your performance. So if you have a particularly weak position, you ought to try to upgrade it. That's what New Orleans has done by effectively losing James Posey (just awful the last two seasons) for Ariza (not good last year, but will be much better than Posey going forward).
The Hornets went from having a huge problem on the wing to having a manageable problem on the wings. (And yes, this graphic ignores completely the separate Julian Wright-Marco Belinelli, just as the rest of the world has.)
Of course, the cost was Collison. Everyone panning the trade from the Hornets' perspective notes (accurately) that Collison is the best player in the deal. But let's face it: Collison was never going to reach his potential behind Chris Paul in New Orleans, and New Orleans would be insane to trade Paul, so the practical value Collison has to the Pacers (and as such, to the basketball-viewing public) is much greater than the practical value he had to the Hornets.
Paul is too good to sit for more than a few minutes a game, and double small-guard lineups are not the future of the league, no matter what Stephen Curry tells you. There just wasn't room for Collison to maximize his potential value in New Orleans, so the Hornets cashed out. Could the team have waited a bit and cashed out for a better return package? Only GM Dell Demps knows that answer, but -- again -- listen to the day traders and stamp collectors. It would have taken a major Paul injury for Collison to expand his perceived value more. Betting on tragedy's like that is a fool's gambit, so I applaud Demps for pawning off Collison.
Of course, the critics will almost certainly be "proven" right in this case, as Collison will indeed blossom in Indiana and New Orleans is still unlikely to win anything given its talent deficit in the Western Conference. Someday, the Collison-Ariza will look bad. But now, for me, it makes a lot of sense. (TZ)
The Works is a column written by Bethlehem Shoals (@freedarko) and Tom Ziller (@teamziller).