Today in The Works: getting misty about the Arenas-Richardson reunion; we offer up some purely hypothetical prop bets; and we cook up a blockbuster about the blockbuster.. But first, what this weekend's deal means for Steve Nash.
Nice Guys Finish Last
The Suns-Magic-Wizards blockbuster was very nearly a feel-good trade for the ages, one where everybody came out a winner. Gilbert Arenas is free to start anew. Hedo Turkoglu goes back to the team that made him great. Vince Carter doesn't have championship expectations weighing on him. John Wall can breathe a sigh of relief and stop listening to that crazy man who plays the same position as him. Jason Richardson and the Magic were made for each other. Dwight Howard got some serious firepower for Christmas. Marcin Gortat can finally prove to everyone that he's the next Darko Milicic. Earl Clark will get traded to the Mavericks someday. Everyone got rid of contracts they didn't want.
And then there was Steve Nash, face of the Suns, everybody's best friend, the player who had the most at stake, and arguably the best affected by it. Karma obviously counts for nothing on the planet or the next, because for Nash, this deal stinks. We may have just witnessed a truly shameful nail in the coffin of one of the NBA's true storybook careers. All for a few pieces of silver. Stench, I say, STENCH!
Okay, fine. These days Nash can't compare to Dwight Howard, especially now that Howard has burnished his offense. But Nash is a certifiable franchise player, one who transforms an entire five-man unit (yes, at both ends -- get it?), and with the right personnel, can win many and garner some MVP consideration. He has won the award twice, should probably have a third, and twice did so when his team wasn't even expected to make the playoffs. This is not the sort of athlete one usually takes for granted, or jerks around with a trade whose main benefits exist only in the rarefied dimension of the salary cap. New addition Vince Carter comes off the books this summer; Hedo Turkoglu's contract is gone; Earl Clark, once invisible, now really has disappeared. Even if you still vividly remember when teams lined up to sign Marcin Gortat in 2009, it's hard to argue that Phoenix's primary motivation here was financial.
Thirty-six year-old Steve Nash is not the right player to take this tack with. For all the fuss made over Howard's free agency, dude has plenty of time ahead of him, and will have a splendid career even if he leaves Orlando. Nash is almost finished, and he knows it. When he re-signed with Phoenix last summer, it assumed that the Suns would make a good faith effort to compete for a championship. If he were younger, or his current contract for more than two years, maybe he could view it as an investment in the future, clearing out cap space for a big move in the off-season. Yet, assuming for the moment that there will be an off-season, the Suns simply cannot afford to wait, or plan for what's next, with Nash around. This master plan would give them exactly one season of Nash plus whoever, before the perennial All-Star would have to decide if he had anything left in the tank, and if so, whether he wanted to stick around in Phoenix.
There is, I suppose, a case to be made for the Suns staying competitive in the interim. Gortat should be an upgrade over Lopez, though it's not clear that the team needs two young centers, given Nash's age and the style he favors. Anyone remember the Shaquille O'Neal experiment? Royce Young suggests that Vince Carter could drink from the fountain of youth in Phoenix like Grant Hill has. Except, contrary to popular belief, Carter doesn't have problems keeping his body in working order like Hill once did. He's just not very good anymore, and has always needed a sports psychiatrist as much as a good doctor. Even if Carter were somehow able to recapture the best of his New Jersey days, he's still probably not as good a fit for the Suns, and specifically Nash, as Richardson. Carter isn't the shooter Richardson is, needs the ball in his hands to get in rhythm, and has isolationist tendencies. Richardson can jump as high as Carter ever could, and is younger. And has no history of injury, or hang-ups. I suppose this opens up minutes for Josh Childress, except Phoenix didn't need to trade Richardson to do that.
So unless Phoenix has another big move in the works, this team has gotten worse in the short-term, and long-term, has attained flexibility that its franchise player might not be around to enjoy. That's what Nash has gotten for staying loyal to his team, trusting management, and making everybody else happy. Meanwhile;
Gilbert Arenas: This man treats a gun like a toy, endangers his life and lives of others, and commits multiple weapons-related felonies ... and ends up playing for a contender? In a sunny state that he's always lived in during the summers, on a team he rooted for as a kid? If there was any justice in this world, Arenas would be stuck on the Timberwolves, traded there in time to be locked in the Metrodome when the roof collapsed. What's more, no one is expecting him to ignite this offense, since people forget he's been healthy since Fall 2009. They just want some scoring, good behavior, and maybe a bit of that old Gilbert charms. So wait, this the price of redemption?
Hedo Turkoglu: Turkoglu waited years to, as they say, "put it all together", and then strung together two career years in a row in Orlando. He then promptly forgot the team that made him great, leaving for the greener pastures of Toronto where he quickly turned lousy. Hedo was traded to the Suns, right before his agent became their general manager, where -- despite having once been the ideal player for what the Suns once were -- he was again underwhelming. Turkoglu seems to have quickly past his prime, or a least never found another system that suits him like the Magic. Good thing he's back there. Arriving at the same time as Jason Richardson and Arenas means less pressure to pretend he's still 2008 Hedo.
Rashard Lewis: The stretch four has long been in league with the devil. That's really the only logical explanation for the max deal Otis Smith offered him in 2007. Don't for a second buy that hooey about Orlando needing stretch four; guys like Rasheed Wallace and James Posey won rings by playing defense, rebounding, and using their size around the basket. Not just stroking threes. And they weren't paid nearly as much. Then, Lewis goes and tests positive for a performance enhancing substance. We're told it's a hilarious accident, and that the drug wouldn't help him one bit. But it was banned. And as unremarkable as Lewis had been, since his suspension he's been worse. He may have the worst contract in the league. Now he's going to a rebuilding team where he can collect those paychecks in peace -- with little to no accountability.
I was raised to believe that sinner will reap what they sow, and the righteous man shall walk upon his own fruited plain. Judging from this weekend, if there is a higher power, he forsook the NBA a long, long time ago. (BS)
Gilbert and J-Rich (Slight Return)
Saturday's mega-trade featured one high-profile reunion with the now-disgraced Hedo Turkoglu's return to the city where he became a sorta-star. But this deal also reteamed Gilbert Arenas and Jason Richardson, one-time teammates who came to the Golden State Warriors in 2001 with the potential to reverse the fortunes of a downtrodden franchise. Their two seasons together in Oakland are barely remembered, but they nevertheless built the foundation for both players' careers, and, somewhat surprisingly, a franchise's identity for a decade.
It's hard to imagine now, but the Warriors used to be colossally boring. In 2000-01, the team was led by the impressive, mostly uninspiring scoring of Antawn Jamison, the ballhogging shooting of Larry Hughes back when people (read: Hughes himself) thought that he could be a scoring champion, and the veteran "leadership" of Mookie Blaylock, who played as if he were in a light-to-no coma. At their worst, they looked like an even sadder version of late-period Nellieball: no teamwork, no greater plan, no sense of a team beyond five guys wearing the same jerseys.
The 2001 draft turned this sorry state of affairs into something resembling an identity and plan. Richardson (No. 5) and Arenas (No. 31) were young, exciting, and effective, giving the Warriors' rebuilding process a measure of flair to go along with forward momentum.
They were also very different personalities. Richardson was sold as an athletic dynamo, and his performances in the Slam Dunk helped justify that reputation. In regular games, though, he stood out for his dependability rather than his explosiveness, in part because he proved mostly unable to create his own shot on a steady basis. It became clear relatively quickly that J-Rich wasn't the star the team drafted him to be, but that he could be a solid member of a starting lineup in virtually an system or situation. Richardson was a rock, even if he wasn't a legitimate first option.
As a second round pick, Arenas came to town with few expectations, yet it became clear rather quickly that he was a rare talent who needed the ball as much as possible. He was fast, cheap, and out of control, a surprise rising star who carried himself as if his success was as assured as that of LeBron James. Gil gained his reputation as a braggadocious superstar with the Wizards, but the foundation was laid in Golden State (and at Arizona as a collegian). When others doubted, Arenas knew he would win, even as he failed. In truth, his swag was always phenomenal, and it carried him to great heights while also isolating him from mainstream love and long-term greatness.
Arenas became a restricted free agent after only two seasons in Oakland, with the salary cap threshhold dictating that the franchise couldn't resign him to a massive deal without paying a sizable luxury tax. When he left for Washington, the Warriors' short-term hopes disappeared, too. However, Arenas's brief time with Golden State provided a nice blueprint for the future: a fast running team led by an explosive guard with as many solid scorers as possible. Gilbert never brought success to his first team, but he is indirectly responsible for the We Believe era. Without Arenas, it's likely that the Warriors would never have decided to trade for Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson, or draft Monta Ellis, or bring Don Nelson back to systematize a running style into something more formidable.
In the process, Arenas also made Richardson's ideal role clear: secondary scorer next to a strong, creative guard. To put things in militaristic terms, If Arenas is the failed revolutionary, setting up potentially successful paths to glory before eventually losing, then Richardson is the dependable soldier, capable of producing results in any situation by virtue of his professionalism. When you look back at pictures from their rookie season, Arenas looks about six years old, but J-Rich doesn't appear much different from how he does now.
The Magic pretty much know what they'll get from Richardson -- Arenas is the wild card. In some opinions, that makes this deal a question mark for Orlando, but history suggests that this is the kind of moment in which he excels. Throughout his career, Arenas has been at his best when no one quite knows what to expect from him; he thrives on uncertainty. Now out of Washington and with diminished expecations, perhaps Gil will recapture some of the personality that has made him a must-watch for the past decade. He may not lead the Magic to any titles, but he could act as a trailblazer for a franchise in serious need of a new plan after this weekend's upheaval. Arenas, for all his eccentricity, has proven several times before that he can be an effective guide in confusing times. (EF)
Lay Your Money Down
Betting is highly illegal, except in certain parts of the country, where it's legal. Also, everyone talks about it, even though it's illegal. So don't blame us if you feel compelled to go out and wager on any of these prop bets, which may or may not actually be available.
20/1: The Magic finish with the NBA's best record.
100/1: The Magic finish below .500.
800/5: Without Arenas, John Wall goes into a major slump.
30/1: Wall finds life a little harder without Arenas.
10/1: Hedo Turkoglu is elected to a very minor political office in Sweden.
200/1: Sweden is no longer a country at that point.
5/1: Man dies of too much laughing when Andray Blatche and Rashard Lewis take the floor together.
80/3: Blatche or Lewis comes off the bench.
63/7: Earl Clark has breakout season, for some team, in the next three years.
200/1: That team is the Suns.
500/1: Gilbert Arenas acquires an exotic pet and introduces it at half-court.
3/1: Arenas gets at least two new nicknames in Orlando.
5/2: Vince Carter and Steve Nash become a noted alley-oop combo.
450/1: Carter and Nash complete more than five alley-oops the rest of the season.
700/1: Marcin Gortat bursts into flames from overexposure to sunlight.
Even: Robin Lopez gives Gortat the nickname "Professor X."
15/1: J.J. Redick plays more than 25 minutes in a single game the rest of the season.
12/1: Redick is the Magic's most efficient shooting guard.
4/1: Steve Nash sets a new record for pulling the ball out after not getting numbers on a fast break.
35/1: Nash's next viral video involves him playing with an Amar'e Stoudemire action figure.
When Hollywood Calls, We Listen
Bethlehem Shoals: I got an email yesterday from my great-uncle in Hollywood. His studio has decided that a blockbuster trade deserves a blockbuster movie, and they want us to write it.
Eric Freeman: As I learned from Robert McKee, every screenwriter needs a genre. The problem is that each part of this deal seems to exist in a different world. Nash is now like the final girl in a slasher movie with Robert Sarver as the killer. Orlando has some kind of "recapturing glory days" light comedy going on with Hedo back with the team and Arenas and Richardson reunited. The Wizards are presumably some kind of desolate indie flick. How do we pull together all these threads to create one story?
BS: Didn't that guy also tell you that the key to making it big was telling people to shut up? He seems small-minded. Maybe it could be like "Time Code", with each team getting a third of the screen. Or we could have a different director do each team's segment. The problem is, they want a blockbuster, presumably because that's the word attached to trades of this magnitude. Weren't they going to turn "Moneyball" into a movie? Or maybe it just plays like "Deep Impact", with a bunch of old, important looking people calling each other on the phone a lot. To make it exciting, Arenas is still in jail, and Earl Clark has a pregnant wife tied up on the railroad tracks. Also, the moon is on fire. Are we getting anywhere?
EF: The trouble is that whereas most big sports trades these days are obsessed over for weeks before they officially happen, this one materialized rather quickly. Where's our behind-the-scenes intrigue? Or maybe we have to make it like "Magnolia" and show a bunch of players tired of their present situations. Then the trade happens at the end and they're offered some brief hope, even if it all eventually turns to crap again in the long run.
BS: So when the trade happens, it rains Corey Maggette bobbleheads?
EF: Yeah, and everyone coincidentally sings "Teach Me How to Dougie" together, too.
BS: I'm still not sure people are going to want to see this movie. They hate the NBA anyway. Now we're expecting to shell out their hard-earned money for a film about bummed out black millionaires? We'll have to get Denzel or we're screwed. Oh wait, I forgot about Nash. Too bad making him younger destroys his storyline. We'll have to cast Nick Nolte or something.
EF: Yeah, plus Gortat will be portrayed by Bull from "Night Court."
BS: Isn't that guy dead? I want to get the tall guy from "Manhunter" to play him.
EF: I was just assuming we'd have a really big budget. But yes, Tom Noonan would also be a good choice. Is there a mastermind in this story? Or is Otis Smith more like a desperate man who will take whatever measures necessary to get what he needs, like Denzel in "John Q."
BS: Also he's a mentor, like Denzel in "Remember the TItans". Maybe we have to make this a comedy. That's the only way you can get the inner lives of athletes unless it's "Playmakers" and it's made to get axed by the league and create a flurry of controversy. Why does everything have to be so seirous with you all the time?
EF: "John Q" is a comedy. What kind of humor are we talking about here? Zaniness or more like a genteel James L. Brooks relationship study?
BS: The kind that makes them look like spoiled punks, with the exception of Nash, and Gortat, who for our purposes doesn't speak English. I am being way too cynical about this. Or wait, maybe we take this behind the scenes, and show the three front offices in slow states of desperation. Lots of business dinners alone.
EF: Or we could adapt "Jerry Maguire" and show that true love between an agent and player requires finding better fits for your clients, not going to their kids' birthday parties.
BS: You are brilliant. I can't decide we didn't think of this before. It will be a sequel to "Jerry Maguire", but with ten times the fun. Some of the players can be mopey or introspective because the whole thing is so silly and moralistic. In the end, everyone remembers what they got into this for in the first place. The love of the game. It might stop a lockout.
EF: Now we just have to find the perfect adorable kid to fill out the cast. Do you have Stephen Curry's number?
The Works is a daily column written by Bethlehem Shoals (@freedarko) and Eric Freeman (@freemaneric), who also contributes regularly to Ball Don't Lie. Their Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History is now available.