But first: why the narrative of Carmelo Anthony matters so much.
He's the One That We Want
Despite the flurry of breaking news on Friday, sometimes serious talks between four parties are just that, and Carmelo Anthony is still a Denver Nugget. Carmelo Anthony, the same player who, over the last few weeks, has been castigated for his lack of leadership and limited basketball offerings. With the offseason winding down -- hark, training camp is here -- Anthony's impending move shouldn't be such big news, anyway. After all, his most likely destination (were a trade to happen in the immediate future) remains the New Jersey Nets.
Mark that down: A player whose flaws don't require a headline unto themselves, going to a team second only to the Clippers when it comes to farcical franchises. Yet somehow, the 'Melo saga resonates in a way that even "The Decision" didn't. Sure, July's spectacle brought about an avalanche of coverage and public opinion. But so would a natural disaster that went down according to a timetable. 'Melo is storyline, plain and simple. However tainted, it's the free-agency parable we had hoped for all summer.
That it's Anthony in the starring role is unfortunate, even gag-like. There's no question that 'Melo wanting out from a franchise on the decline, headed to another in hopes of building it up out of nothing, is as American as greased-up rifles. That's free agency we can all believe in, even if technically it's a petulant trade demand.
If sports is about action, narrative, and the intersection of the two, the offseason is all about pure narrative. The story of Anthony-to-the-Nets, however pock-marked, strikes the right chord with fans who were either confounded or outright alienated by LeBron and the Heat.
What's more, compared to Miami, this journey to Jersey is Horatio Alger-like in a way that makes 'Melo -- arguably a lesser player than any of the latest Big Three -- strangely endearing. Unless you count Carlos Boozer, who joined a Bulls team anchored by Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, or Amar'e Stoudemire, who remains controversial as a leading man, Anthony is this summer's feel-good odyssey.
I had thought this would torment him and set unreasonable expectations. That may yet prove to be the case. But it also makes him good and honest, willing to take on the challenge of propping up a lesser team all by his lonesome.
The Nets, too, make the perfect landing pad for Anthony. There's the undeniable street cred, furnished by an all-around rap mogul Jay-Z and the borough of Brooklyn (Newark is harder!), and the kooky, iron-fisted fairy godfather in the form of owner Mikhail Prokhorov.
The other star on the scene is Brook Lopez, a third-year center who remains obscure to many NBA fans. If you're wondering, he's everything that Andrew Bynum's contract believed Andrew Bynum to be. Coach Avery Johnson is looking for redemption, and we're looking to see what the Little General looks like in his second act. Jordan Farmar, Travis Outlaw, Terrence Williams and Anthony Morrow are youngsters who just might turn out all right. It's a screenplay waiting to happen.
That's Anthony's NBA profile in a nutshell, too, and this correspondence both amplifies the negatives -- the Nets are terrible, 'Melo isn't up to the task -- and make the whole thing click like the best sports stories do. That's why, at this late hour, 'Melo-to-Jersey has us as worked up as anything else that's happened this summer. When the deal faltered, and then was replaced in the headlines by the asinine Philadelphia trade, you got the feeling that the Summer of 2010 had been on the verge of completing its singular mission.
It was supposed to shake up the league, restore power to the powerless and end the reign of the undeserving. But not like the Heat. 'Melo in New Jersey not only has a good ring to it, it plots out as 2010's single most resonant episode.
If discussions of (free) agency, player movement and owner responsibility got especially heavy in the wake of the Plague of Comic Sans, this deal would right those discussions. Not erase them, as Kevin Durant supposedly did. It breaks down these questions in a way that makes you think without turning the stomach.
Beyond the Nets' future, or 'Melo's reputation, there's another matter that finds itself thrown into turmoil by this potential trade. I'm speaking, of course, of the Knicks' brand. Sure, with every day the trade doesn't happen, the chances that Anthony will eventually end up in Madison Square Garden shoot up. And yet if Jersey does end up with Anthony, it's a coup, a major slap in the face of the area's only team that counts.
With the Nets arriving in BK someday soon, that kind of statement counts for much. It even opens the door for the New York Nets -- their original name, if you didn't know -- to challenge the august Knicks brand. Yes, Knicks fans are stalwart. But what if we end up with another Yankees-Mets on our hands?
Compared to James Dolan's dark lordship, just about any franchise comes off as less extravagant, more accessible. Forget about rap and crazy Russians, both of whom pander to that borough's demographic sweep. In Anthony, as with the Nets themselves, there's a team not projected as dominant and unruly -- a squad that will have to prove itself to the world -- stepping into New York City.
It's cause for some hard stares right now. But it's also part of why we love this story like we do, even if it doesn't pan out. 'Melo, in his imperfections, undermines the Knicks, which if things go well, helps the Nets. Plenty of Knicks loyalists must be asking themselves these days, "How can I love a team that has chewy, gristly Dolan at its core"?
Carmelo Anthony's Nets offer a way out. Not only is it a strong, if flawed, summer story. Choosing the Nets over the Knicks could be the beginning of a new foundation, one that spotlights Dolan, throws into sharp relief that team's aimlessness, and offers up a new, edgier option. Treason? Perhaps. So does clapping for 'Melo's trade demand as the summer's tale of redemption, and yet the complaints around it -- about the player, and the team he might be headed to -- seem determined only to strengthen this dark horse campaign. (BS)
Gang of Five Strikes Again
Andray Blatche signed a tidy, little extension ($28 million for three years, effectively) on Friday, scoring another notch for the wonderfully weird preps-to-pros '05 second-rounders cabal. Five high school kids were picked in the second round of the 2005 NBA Draft. Just after the draft, the league instituted its age minimum, disallowing future preps-to-pros jumps. These five -- C.J. Miles, Monta Ellis, Louis Williams, Amir Johnson and Blatche -- were the final high school kids admitted to the league.
The justification for the age minimum has been that a year of college, NBA D-League or international experience would allow fans to better know incoming rookies, would help give teams a better body of work to assess in draft preparation and would get NBA scouts out of high school gyms. You'll notice all those reasons share a motive: money. And the NBA has never disputed that the creation of the age minimum was solely a business decision.
That high school kids simply aren't ready for the grind of 82 games in 29 cities is a parallel but flimsy argument; LeBron James, Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard had little trouble adjusting to a new world, and the NCAA and AAU have been so professionalized the NBA hardly constitutes a universe apart. Tangential to this strain, though, is the idea that the pros are a terrible place for player development. That's why you go to college: to learn at the feet of Jedi masters like Mike Krzyzewski and John Calipari and Rick Pitino. Because men like Larry Brown and Avery Johnson are too busy trying to win games to be bothered with the burgeoning youth heaped on their rosters.
The preps-to-pros '05 second-rounders laugh in the face of that theory. Their weird mythology -- emboldened by the news three of them (Miles, Ellis and Williams) plus two '05 preps-to-pros first-rounders (Andrew Bynum and Gerald Green) all decided to declare for the draft on something between whim and a dare -- continues with Blatche's deal.
Take a look at this chart comparing the contracts of 10 members of the high school class of 2005: the five who jumped straight to the NBA but fell to the second round, and the next five to be drafted after one or two years of college (Tyrus Thomas, Shawne Williams, Julian Wright, Rodney Stuckey and Wilson Chandler). Under the belief college is a better place to learn the craft, you'd expect the preps-to-pros kids to be behind in their development, right?
The Gang of Five has made way more money than the classmates who went to school, and have way more guaranteed money locked up heading into the new collective bargaining agreement. Of the kids who chose school, Thomas has signed his second contract. It's unlikely Stuckey or Chandler will sign early extensions this summer, owing to the uncertainty of the next CBA. There's no chance Wright signs an extension by the end of the month, and Williams is out of the league.
Because the Gang of Five has 1-2 years of NBA experience over the others might seem like an unfair advantage. But that's just the point: you enter the NBA and you can actually start getting paid for your work. You enter the NBA and your second contract is just around the corner, even if it's modest (as in the case of Miles). This also says something profane about the second round of the draft, and further emboldens Shoals' theory about buying into the lottery.
Hat tip to Dan Shanoff, with whom I discussed Blatche's legacy last week. (TZ)
Mark Cuban again defended his claim the Mavericks' depth will help Dallas overcome the rest of the Western Conference. In an interview with Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News, Cuban noted that San Antonio and Phoenix had second units that could win games.
Surely a nod to Manu Ginobili and Goran Dragic, right? Ginobili could win Sixth Man of the Year every season and no one would blink, and Dragic had that wonderful explosion against the Spurs.
Actually, Cuban was talking about someone else. In the playoffs, who beat us? It was George Hill. It wasn't Tony Parker. That's arguable: Hill had three big games, but also three mediocre ones. But what's inarguable is that Hill started every game of the series. Parker was returning from injury, and S.A. coach Gregg Popovich started Hill in the Mavericks series. When Hill beat the Mavericks, he did it as a starter, not off the bench. The substandard Dallas second unit had not one little thing to do with Hill's success.
What's more is that Cuban is fundamentally misunderstanding the reason Hill and Parker had strong series against the Mavericks. It was because the Dallas point guards were completely overmatched. Completely, totally and utterly. Jason Kidd was shredded by Hill, and couldn't answer at all on the other end. (He took fewer than eight shots per game, yet still converted only 30 percent.) J.J. Barea was similarly ineffective on both ends.
And guess what? Those are the Mavs' two point guards heading into 2010-11. As I argued a few weeks ago, the one area where Dallas truly needed to add some depth was at point guard. The one position where Dallas has not addressed its depth is ... at point guard. Unless Rodrigue Beaubois becomes a full-time point (unlikely, as he is penciled in as the starter at two-guard), the Mavericks are in big trouble at that position. Again. George Hill, Goran Dragic, Steve Blake, Andre Miller, Steve Nash, Tony Parker, Deron Williams. It won't matter. The Mavs' season depends on Beaubois bursting out and coach Rick Carlisle using him properly. Barring a major trade, Beaubois is the only hope. (TZ)
The Works is a daily column written by Bethlehem Shoals (@freedarko) and Tom Ziller (@teamziller). Their Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History will be available this October.