What Hath the King Wrought? A Wave of Panicky NBA Trades
One more day. NBA teams have less than 24 hours to take their franchises to Def-Con 1. Only until 3:00 ET Thursday afternoon to make sure they don't get LeBron-ified, to avoid becoming next season's Cleveland Cavaliers.
In hindsight, it appears that while "The Decision'' by LeBron James merely raked most NBA followers' last natural nerve, it scared team executives witless.
Maybe none of the trades completed and proposed as the deadline approaches will turn out to be as enormous overreactions as they appear now. Maybe Carmelo Anthony will be for the Knicks exactly as the Knicks expect him -- and, it seems, desperately needs him -- to be. It's possible, meanwhile, that the Nuggets, looking horrified by what they had to do to avoid Anthony walking away from them this summer, will be able to rebuild with the pieces from the three-way trade as it could have by simply dropping his contract off their books.
And maybe the Jazz really needed to part ways with Deron Williams as hastily as they did on Wednesday -- a season ahead of his potential free agency. And maybe the Nets' mortgaging of their future will help them realize their dream, whether it's escalating its arms race with the soon-to-be-borough-neighboring Knicks, or spending the resources they had saved up to throw at the Nuggets for Anthony, or satisfying their new owner's ego, or all of the above.
That's a lot of maybes.
There's no maybe about this, though: no less than four franchises -- the Knicks, Nets, Nuggets and Jazz -- all ran scared for various reasons and with an off-the-charts risk-to-reward ratio riding on all of their moves.
It's not all because of how the LeBron Chase -- rigged and pre-determined as it turned out to be -- evolved last offseason. Or, to be precise, for the previous three seasons, starting when James began toying with the whole league and its fans over where he'd be playing in 2010-11.
You can't point the finger at that for all of what's going on now -- but you can for most of it. And when the same thing goes on next season (as always, presuming there is a next season, depending on how the labor talks go) surrounding Chris Paul and the Hornets, you can trace that back to LeBron-a-palooza, too.
He envisioned a lot of fallout from this, you'd have to believe. But this much?
Everybody who shrinks away from the perennial bogeyman of competitive imbalance and dominance of big-market franchises -- this is what they feared, that James' leap from Cleveland to Miami to form a super-team in an attractive, media-friendly place. Everybody who also -- or instead, in some cases, but it's usually a package deal -- feared players having way too much say in their own futures and too much sway over the owners and, thus, the league itself, also are having those fears justified.
Not that any of it is really all that scary, considering that no matter what your favorite sport's commissioner or team's owner wants you to believe, management still has the biggest stick and wants nothing more than to make it even bigger -- hence the NBA, following the NFL, barreling toward a lockout and possible lost games. That's a topic for another column on another day, probably for the next time the players get blamed for being greedy, rather than the owners for being greedier.
But for practical purposes right now, the more these crazy deals pile up and the threat of more sooner or later increases, the more you realize that when LeBron kicked that door open last summer, no one could have imagined all of what was on the other side.
An Anthony deal that ends up sending half of the Knicks' team out and brings half of the Nuggets' team in, with a sprinkling of Timberwolves mixed in? Was that really necessary? Oh, blame the Knicks' dysfunctional front office if you like -- you're not out of line there. But both teams blinked on this one, because the Nuggets didn't want to go through a repeat of last summer in Cleveland, and neither did the Knicks (who, in fact, did go through it all last summer along with Cleveland).
So, what's the Nets' excuse? And the Jazz's? Most of what New Jersey was throwing at the Nuggets for Anthony, they turned around and threw at Utah. It wasn't a sure thing that Anthony was worth it (presuming it wasn't just a ploy to bamboozle the Knicks and send their fans into hysteria). Now, is Williams worth it? Especially when they'll have a hard time surrounding him -- who's, you know, a point guard -- with help without last June's No. 1 pick (Derrick Favors), two future No. 1s and their lone real star, Devin Harris.
Meanwhile, Utah has now pushed both figures in the alleged broken player-coach marriage overboard. Think Ty Corbin's chances of matching Jerry Sloan's coaching longevity dropped by a few decades after that?
Again, there's still time for a few more franchises to detonate themselves. Don't count on it happening in New Orleans yet, although Paul still does have the lit match in his hand, seeing as how he's openly yearned to join Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. Surely others will emerge between now and the end of this season -- remember, the 'Melo Drama we all survived didn't start until after last year's trade deadline, when Anthony first made it known that he wasn't going to sign Denver's extension offer.
But as all that mania unfolds in the NBA's middle and lower regions -- where the chance of going to The Finals are non-existent, no matter what the back pages are saying -- a handful of teams will ponder a few tweaks, a trim here and an add-on there. The Celtics, Lakers, Spurs, Magic and ... uh ... Heat won't be engaged at the level the rest will be. Their battle is in June, for a championship. Not for survival, and not to avoid embarrassment.
Or not to avoid becoming the Cavaliers.