But first, Chris Paul, LeBron James and how time will crush us all.
Legacy? We Talking About Legacy?
Last weekend, when Chris Paul slayed the Miami Heat, basketball fans the world over lined to proclaim CP3 completely, totally, and unequivocally back. This was the same peanut gallery that, since the summer months, has been bellyaching over the legacy of one LeBron James. We somehow know what we will be thinking about LeBron James years from now, but have already forgotten what Paul did two years ago.
Apparently, we have no memory, not even barely even a short-term one. Yet we're capable of thinking about the big picture of history, a kind of memory that most nation-states find themselves largely immune to.
It wasn't so long ago that Paul was not only the consensus best point guard in the league, but also already on track to be one of the greats at his position. It would be one thing if he had been annihilated by injuries, rendered inactive so as to forfeit his place in the sky. Except Paul did play 45 games in 2009-10, averaging 18.7 points, 10.7 assists, and 2.1 steals. The Hornets had problems, and these weren't quite the numbers we had grown accustomed to from the perennial All-Star. Still, no one would say that Paul has resurrected his career. We had all just forgotten about him, or let infidels like Deron Williams and Rajon Rondo enter the picture.
Then there's LeBron James, the player we're all so sick of talking about. As detailed in a fine new Nike spot, James' decision to go to Miami means he's not the man anymore. He also took the easy way out and will never be remembered as a champion. This is totally reasonable because we already know not only how the Heat experiment will happen -- there are several possible outcomes, and none will make a difference -- but also whether the rest of the league will change, or in the future, basketball will be thought of the same way. What we really mean is "that LeBron James, he's really not doing the kind of thing I want my kids to learn about in middle school." This description is especially true if the speaker doesn't yet have kids. There is no future in "legacy," only our projection forward in time without any sense of how time changes.
The hilarious part about all of this? James has, from the day he entered the league, been saddled with the burden of all-timer-ness. LeBron hit the NBA with more promise than any player in recent memory; if nothing else, he was the most outlandishly skilled, and physically gifted, to come along since the hype wave crested. He lends himself naturally to talk of the great beyond because LeBron James has always been a creature of history. Except now, instead of looking at him and predicting majesty, we dump on him and except the stench to never, ever wash away. The truth is, LeBron the Chosen One has never really belonged to eternity; to question whether he'll be worth our attention is to chase after a phantom of our own creation.
If you were among those disputing the logic of future 'Bron all the while, well, congrats. Unfortunately, that doesn't necessarily make you smarter, since only a moron could watch James play and not consider just how high the ceiling might be. There's a fine line between recognizing what would be, or identifying history in the making, and jumping the gun. Or pretending like you're all-knowing.
Legacy is a very real thing. What Chris Paul was working on -- never really stopped, actually -- was a level of play at his position that few, before or since, have matched. More than anyone besides Steve Nash, Paul has become a symbol of the newfound importance of the PG. To watch him play is, undeniably, to take in the work of a master. We can pretty comfortably say that Paul, like Tim Duncan or the mature Kobe Bryant, has put it all together in a way few athletes ever do. LeBron James has yet to find this groove, at least not in any sustained way. He can do nearly anything on the court, but one wonders if his overall game has achieved this kind of focus, flexibility and cohesion. Maybe the angst over him joining up with Wade and Chris Bosh has something to do with a fear that we're being denied this fulfillment of the destiny we so badly longed for.
In any case, to apply history to James is at best an over-reaction, at worst, bad faith. The former is a response to his multiple MVPs, head-shattering stat lines, and ability to take over games in so many ways. It's the latter that led to this summer's legacy-fest, when all the while, we couldn't be bothered to apply it positively to players more deserving. Legacy is at once concrete and ideal. That's the perfect summation of Chris Paul to date. Too bad we were too busy forgetting to give him his due. (BS)
The Art of Rebuilding
Rebuilding an NBA franchise is an art form, and art is in the eye of the beholder, therefore, rebuilding an NBA franchise is in the eye of the beholder. Like R. Mutt before him, an avant garde general manager like David Kahn can challenge the definition of "rebuilding" itself.
So let us investigate the aesthetics of rebuilding by looking at a few teams a couple years into their revivals. How beautiful or, uh, "not beautiful according the standard societal definition" have these renovations been? (I love Barnett Newman! Honest!)
Certainly. the Thunder's rise to date has been executed exactly how a scientist would draw it up: capture a star, build around the star with smart, hard-working roleplayers, flourish. (And it continues, with Serge Ibaka and Cole Aldrich in tow.) The Blazers would be right there, if not for Greg Oden's travails. Vinny Del Negro made the rise of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah look a little less perfect than it ought to have.
The Knicks seem to have a bit of a team right now, but Lord, what a bog they had to wade through. The thought that spurred all of this was a consideration of the Memphis Grizzlies. The physics of the Rudy Gay max deal were dreadful, and everything about the Mike Conley contract is ghastly. But the Grizz are actually going to be competitive this year, and, like the Knicks, possibly for years to come.
There appears to be no such hope for the Minnesota Timberwolves, who need Ricky Rubio to be a Botticelli to avoid prolonged aesthetic and on-court misery. (TZ)
Lying Liars and the Lies They Tell
Rule No. 1 of journalism: Everyone in power is lying, always. Forbes national editor Michael Ozanian knows this better than most, as he has questioned David Stern myriad times in the last few years. (Also, once, on occasion of Gilbert Arenas' playing a terrible practical joke involving guns, Ozanian said the NBA was "full of thugs.") The writer has gone further this time though, telling the world Stern is a lying liar and has no credibility when it comes to the NBA's finances.
It's fair to question Stern's bent truth about the supposed $350 million bath his teams are taking. But Ozanian, skilled at boiling byzantine financial statements into legible narrative, is better equipped than to skip to the easiest answer possible. Teams can sell for record totals without Stern misleading the media (and union) on annual deficits. Obviously, growing team values aren't in the equation when Stern spins darkly. Obviously, they ought to be, because rich fellows like new Warriors owner Joe Lacob don't buy teams to maximize yearly profit. They do it in part for the glamor, in part for the potential payoff down the road. But I think it's pretty well understood that outside of Jerry Reinsdorf, James Dolan, Jerry Buss and the detestable Donald Sterling, annual profits aren't at all the norm in the NBA.
Ozanian says Stern must be lying about the league losing money because the Warriors sold for $450 million; in reality, Stern is (quite openly) just leaving that part of the equation out. Perhaps no journalist aside from FanHouse's Jon Weinbach or CNBC's Darren Rovell is better-placed to explain that discrepancy to the common fan than Ozanian, whose magazine annually translates heaps of data into its team value rankings. If Ozanian thinks Stern's chatter is misleading, he ought to explain why it is so. Calling someone in power a liar without going into any depth on the issue -- well, that's not journalism. That's electioneering.
More pugnacious and wrong (and bizarre) is Ozanian's assertion Stern lied about the league's policy on players owning stock of teams they play for when (guess who?) Ozanian himself had suggested that free agent LeBron could buy stock in MSG if he signed with the Knicks. Ozanian claims the NBA, in saying LeBron couldn't do that, lied about its policy. (This policy -- that players cannot own any portion of teams they play for -- is in the very-public NBA collective bargaining agreement. It was also manifested very publicly when Michael Jordan was forced to sell his share of the Wizards upon returning to game action.)
In other news, according to Ozanian Stern also lied when he said games are 48 minutes long, that you can only use five players at a time, and that Martian spies aren't allowed on active rosters. End sarcasm: the NBA makes the rules. I think they know them. (TZ)
The Works is a daily column written by Bethlehem Shoals (@freedarko) and Tom Ziller (@teamziller). Their Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History is now available.