But first, do the Nets really want to part with Derrick Favors?.
Not So Fast, New Jersey
It's become abundantly clear that, one way or the other, Carmelo Anthony is headed out of Denver. Where, at this point, is largely immaterial to me. As Eric and I discussed on Monday, the Nets -- even if down the road, they plan to make a run at Chris Paul -- would remain uninspiring. The Rockets, who have crept into the picture, will be recovering from the putative loss of Yao Ming for years to come. As of now, the Knicks appear to be little more than a smokescreen.
Whether or not we like it for Anthony, the Nets themselves will be thrilled to land Melo. And rightfully so -- he may not be an all-around menace like LeBron James or Dwayne Wade; a stud big man like Blake Griffin; or a point guard who can bring together an entire mediocre team and make it something better. But as a pure scorer (a term as contentious as "MVP" or "All-Star", I know), Anthony has few peers. Plus, people like him, and like to watch him. Certainly, he makes the Nets more relevant, if not vastly more competitive.
Still, there's one thing bugging me about this presumptive deal: the inclusion of Derrick Favors.
Yes, New Jersey will have to give up something, and Favors is, after Brook Lopez, their most valuable trade chip. They're likely parting with Devin Harris, too, who comes in at number three. Favors has yet to really come into his own as a player, and putting too much stock in potential has brought many teams to their knees.
But Favors, even if he doesn't turn into an All-Star, represents something else the Nets would be forfeiting: flexibility. That, combined with his potential and size, makes him nearly as valuable a commodity as Anthony.
Crazy? Maybe. Especially when the Nets aren't exactly capped out, already have Lopez down low, and are no longer looking at a Summer of 2010-ish smorgasbord of free agents to choose from this summer -- assuming there's a "this summer" at all in the NBA. And Anthony, even if he isn't a clear-cut franchise player, is without question a max-salary guy.
Still, flexibility might be worth more than all of that. Let's think about it in a positive light: Favors could, for the next few seasons, be a very, very good player at relatively little cost. Harris is disposable in part because he's paid like a veteran. Favors, though, is the holy grail of these lean, mean times: he can play and he's cheap. Compare this with Anthony, a six-year commitment who will eat up a large chunk of salary. Injuries happen. Idealized scenarios sour. Mikhail Prokhorov may be eager to break the bank and swing for the moon, and yet the businessman in him has to recognize the risk involved in a max-player investment.
How many deals do we see made in the NBA for the sole sake of attaining flexibility? The salary dump and the hunt for expiring contracts both assume that the ideal condition for a front office is one where it can wheel and deal at the drop of a hat. Think, for instance, about the teams you're hearing in the Anthony rumors. In large part, they're a function of who can reasonably hope to participate. With Paul likely available sooner rather than later, don't the Nets want to make sure they're front and center in those talks?
Granted, Melo doesn't completely clog their cap, and Melo makes the team more intriguing for Paul. You have to spend money to spend more money, as they say. Then again -- to return to Favors -- wouldn't Paul rather come to a team with Lopez, Favors, and room to make more moves that directly respond to his needs? The dream of a super-team is great and all, but as we're seeing with the Knicks, sometimes just good coaching and smart personnel moves are enough. And at some point, we're bound to see a failed super-team that suggests that the Miami Heat's massive talent level is a large part of their success.
The Nets whiffed last summer in their attempt to land big free agents; from their perspective, Melo might be their last best shot at one of this generation's biggest stars. Then again, that only proves that they're still in the 2010 mindset, or at least operating under the assumption that it's Heat or bust. But, if the Nets have any faith in Billy King (I know, that's funny), they can take their time, and attract a star sooner rather than later because -- once the team moves to Brooklyn and all -- they're the kind of organization whose approach isn't all or nothing. (BS)
Brave Young Masai Versus The Bullies
On Monday night, Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojanarowski reported that the Denver Nuggets were thinking of trading Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks instead of the Nets because of the bullying tone of their negotiations. Here is a dramatization of these events as filtered through my demented brain.
When his dad told him about his new job at Chipotle headquarters, Masai Ujiri was really nervous about starting a new life in Denver. He thought that the other kids would make fun of his name, or maybe tease him just because he was the new kid. But right after getting to the Mike Hampton Elementary School, he was suddenly the most popular kid in school. You see, he had a Carmelo, the hottest toy of the season, complete with detachable braids and headband accessories. While Masai didn't have the LaLa Reality Show Film Crew expansion pack, the other kids couldn't stop thinking about how much fun it would be to draw new tattoos on Carmelo with dry-erase markers and act out thrilling adventures with other NBA Superstars collectibles.
Everything was going great at first. At home after his first day at school, Masai was telling his parents about all his new friends when suddenly the phone rang. It was Donnie Walsh, one of the oldest kids and someone everyone looked up to. As Student Council President, Donnie was a pretty big deal and planned most schoolwide pizza parties, so Masai really felt like one of the cool kids. Donnie told him that he'd heard great things about his Carmelo and thought it would be a good idea if Masai showed him off at an assembly one day. That way everyone could get a good idea of what it could do and whether or not they should ask Masai to their birthday parties. This made Masai feel uncomfortable. He wanted people to invite him to their birthday parties because they liked him, not because he had a cool Carmelo. So he told Donnie that he appreciated the offer but didn't want everyone knowing about his Carmelo.
The next day at school, everything was a mess. Everyone came up to Masai asking about the Carmelo, even the weird kids like David Kahn, who Mitch Kupchak said he once saw picking his nose during PE. It was all too much for Masai, so he ran into the bathroom to get away from it all. But that's where he found Billy King waiting for him. Billy was a no-good kid who had apparently been expelled from his last school in Philadelphia. He was best friends with a tall Russian kid who thought he was better than everyone else, and everyone was afraid of both of them because they kept threatening to fight everyone after school at the monkey bars.
Billy started talking to Masai about how he'd always wanted to play with a Carmelo but hadn't had the chance to get one. He kept mentioning how the Russian kid could give him all kinds of other toys in exchange, but most of them were ones Masai had never heard of before. Billy kept punching a fist into his other hand, though, and Masai really didn't want to get beat up and seem like a wimp at his new school.
So he started talking to Billy about what he'd give him for the Carmelo everyday at recess. At first it seemed like they might be waiting to work out a fair trade, but every time they got close Billy would take back the deal -- even though they said no backsies -- and say he only had a bunch of Shrinky-Dinks. Masai knew that was wrong -- the Russian kid was always playing with cool remote control cars and boats -- but he also knew he didn't want to make a big scene and get himself beat up. Instead, he'd go home in a bad mood and be cross with his parents. They were starting to wonder if it was a bad idea to make Masai change schools right when he was feeling comfortable.
One day, though, it all became too much for Masai. When Billy offered him a few jacks and a bouncy ball wit a chunk bitten out of the side, Masai yelled at him and said they weren't friends anymore. The Carmelo was his prized possession, and he wouldn't just give it to anyone who threatened him. Unless Billy started treating him nicer, they couldn't be friends anymore and Masai would tell Principal Stern that Billy was being mean to him.
Billy didn't know how to react. At first, he just double-dog-dared Masai to leave and see if anyone else would trade for the Carmelo before it became an unpopular toy. But Masai was strong now and knew that he had to keep sticking up for himself. In fact, he said that Donnie really wanted the Carmelo and had already offered him some fancy new toy from Italy that no one else at the school had even heard of yet.
This wasn't true, of course. Masai hadn't talked to Donnie since that first time he offered him the assembly. But Billy didn't know that, and neither did the Russian kid, who hated Donnie because he got so much attention from the school newspaper. Masai's parents had always told him that lying was bad, but he didn't consider this a fib because he figured Donnie would definitely want the Carmelo and was a good enough kid to give him a fair deal.
That remained to be seen, though. When Masai walked home the next day, he wondered if his life would ever be the same. Still, he kept walking, ready to deal with any consequences like the brave little boy he was. (EF)
Predicting The Next Heat Upheaval
Please, don't get up from your seat, or fuss with your hair much, but the Miami Heat are sitting atop the Eastern Conference with a record of 30-9. They have the second-best record in the league, only after those really perplexing Spurs.
At the same time, the Heat -- good as they are -- bear little resemblance to the must-watch juggernaut we expected after "The Decision". They are just, well, a basketball team, albeit one that happens to start LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. We neither love nor hate them, and their games, like the nail-biter against Portland on Sunday, are judged like any other contest. No one's waiting to see who takes the last shot, or determine if LeBron is showing an adequate level of respect for his coach. They have, for better or worse, achieved normalcy.
Then again, we aren't even halfway through the season. If already, we've seen this team go (supposedly) from the brink of catastrophe -- where a coach's job hung in the balance, and the Miami Heat might have to consider choosing between Wade and James -- to the top of the conference, who knows what's next? This team contains multitudes; far be it from us to figure that, just because things have stabilized in South Beach, we're not only one big shock away from again treating them like a soap opera.
But inertia is a powerful thing. It's to the Heat's credit that they have managed to shed the early season's goofiness. What, then, would it take to throw them back into chaos? We offer up a few possibilities.
LeBron James Says the Heat Are Like the Four Gospels: The Heat earned a good deal of criticism when LeBron informed the world they call themselves "the Heatles," and any image-conscious player is sure to react when he rubs the public the wrong way. Believing fully in John Lennon's infamous comment that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus, LeBron should instead compare his team to the Four Gospels of the New Testament, because it is a much humbler comparison. Plus, most people in Florida are old Jews, so there's no danger of losing even more fans.
Erik Spoelstra Joins an Internet Startup: With his fresh young looks and charismatic personality, Spoelstra is a natural for the world of Silicon Valley. That's why he should announce that he's teamed with Kevin Pritchard to create Hoopzoozle.com, a new basketball social network in which hoopsters can collect virtual sneakers and interact with other fans and athletes in real time.
Dwyane Wade Admits He's a Parrothead: "Rock 'musician'" Jimmy Buffett is the Heat's most famous fan, so it seems natural that one of the team's players would get turned on to his music and become a permanent citizen of Parrothead Nation. Wade should leak this information slowly, first by singing "Cheeseburger in Paradise" during postgame media sessions and eventually wearing Tommy Bahama shirts on road trips and drinking nothing but LandShark Lager at clubs.
Mario Chalmers Publicly Supports Sarah Palin: Chalmers hails from Alaska, but he's rarely done anything to align himself with his home state. The man's never even compared himself to a polar bear or discussed the great taste of moose meat. Voicing his approval for Palin's policies and general approach to politics would be a huge story and a chance for Chalmers to get some true fame on a team with three stars. Now that's what I call putting lipstick on a pig!
Mike Miller Complains About Playing Time: The awesome thing here is that you know plenty of fans and media -- mostly outside of Miami -- would take Miller's side. After all, he was supposed to be a key part of this team. If he feels like he's not being served, then things have gone horribly awry, and LeBron is a ball hog.
James Jones Learns Karate: The Heat are low on personality. Wade dresses funny, and presumably Chris Bosh is still the same Chris Bosh who made some entertaining web videos when he couldn't get the Home Brewing Network in HD. Except we don't see it. Never. Like how we're always told that LeBron is a hoot, just not for the benefit of the general public. James Jones, martial arts master, would break this taboo, set off an arms race of sorts, and turn the team into one big Prince concert.
Michael Beasley and Dorell Wright Form Folk-Rock Duo: They were cast aside in the great rush to remake the Heat, and this season, are both strong candidates for the Most Improved Player Award. Beasley and Wright's trippy folk-rock project is released like a mix tape, and the cover has lots of flying toasters on it. The two of them shout a lot and play old keyboards over a soft bed of acoustic guitars and zithers. Blogs all rush to figure out if it's all one big Dwyane Wade diss.
Chris Bosh Reveals He's A Mavericks Fan: Most people think Bosh is from Toronto originally. Not true! He was born and raised around Dallas. Just when everything seemed like it was going fine, Bosh accidentally lets it slip that while he plays for the Heat, he will always have a soft spot for the Mavs. (EF & BS)
Who Is Better: Al Horford Or Joakim Noah?
Basketball is about winning. But sometimes, it's about more than that. Sometimes, it's not enough to win the game -- you've got to be better than the next guy. Sometimes, you can be better and still not win the game. He might even win! To this end, we are introducing a new feature here at the Works: Who Is Better At Basketball?
Today's contestants: Al Horford and Joakim Noah.
Eric Freeman: Let's set the scene before we get into the argument at hand. Horford and Noah were teammates at Florida and won two championships, but there was a rivalry even then: Noah got more attention from the media while Horford was considered the better draft prospect. Horford was picked third in the 2007 draft with Noah going ninth. So, at that point, Horford was considered better at basketball.
Bethlehem Shoals: Except Noah could have come out the year before, and gone higher. So you might say that he got worse at basketball. Also, Horford got better. The really funny thing about comparing these two is that, while they play the same position in the pros (both are centers), at Florida they both started. And, to make it even funkier, Noah -- the true center -- was considered the more multi-dimensional, with his passing and dribbling and all. Horford was the workhorse. Now, in the pros, Noah is the consummate energy player; it's funny to be reminded that he was once seen as a multi-dimensional softies. He has gotten better at basketball, but worse than Horford.
EF: I don't know if you can make that conclusion; what it really depends on is what you think constitutes the best basketball player. Is it the one who's good at lots of things or the one who's excellent a few things? It's a tough question that we will probably deal with many times in this feature
BS: But wait, it's not that simple. After all, Noah could be good at a lot of things, but focuses primarily on rebounding. How exactly do we determine who is better, when Noah might not be showing us everything he can do? In theory, he's a more skilled player than Horford; in practice, he can often seem more limited.
EF: This is why it's a lot easier to figure out who's better in video games, where everyone has a numerical rating for each skill. Plus, who's to say that playing with guys like Josh Smith and Joe Johnson in Atlanta doesn't hurt Horford's numbers, too. Maybe he'd score more or block more shots on another team.
BS: Didn't we already determine last week that Smith was not blocking shots so he could seem more mature? There's also, with Noah, the question of how much Derrick Rose forces him into a certain mold. Rose dominates the ball and takes most of the shots. What else is Noah supposed to do but board and show enough enthusiasm that he stays on everyone's radar?
EF: Right, I think it effects both players. And, for that matter, everyone who's ever played basketball. That's what makes it so tough to figure out who's better when the players are so close. It's a good thing we're here to figure it out for everyone.
BS: So ... who is better at basketball? I say Noah. He has more going for him, and also has proven flexible enough to suit what's going on around him. I mean, really, who's to say Horford isn't holding back Marvin Williams? Prove it!
EF: I think Noah has gotten a big boost here by being hurt, honestly. The Bulls' defense is so much worse without him that we're appreciating just how important he is. Maybe Horford needs to get injured if he wants to win this battle in the future.
BS: And it is, indeed, a battle for the future.
The Works is 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.