In 2007, Kim Kardashian was leaking a sex tape, Charlie Sheen was still married, Barack Obama was thinking about running for president, Nicole Kidman’s face could still move, people other than porn stars were using MySpace, and I was calling the NBA “The No Balls Association.” Nobody wanted to trade. General managers would rather stand pat than make a move and get raked over the coals. Self-preservation trumped everything else.
Looking back, it was a transition year between the good old days (in which a slew of teams were run by people who made you wonder, “Wait, are they drunk?”) and today’s era of suffocating 24/7 coverage (in which every move is endlessly dissected by fans, bloggers and media members). The National Basketball Association has changed in a variety of ways this century, but none more than this: February’s trade deadline, June’s draft and July’s free agency frenzy are consumed as voraciously as the playoffs and the Finals. You can’t just slip a stupid basketball trade by an entire country anymore. You will be mocked on Twitter, on blogs, on sports radio, on message boards, in columns and articles … if there was a theme song for this era, it would be Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” with one letter adjusted.
We will … we will … MOCK YOU!
We will … we will … MOCK YOU!
So it took a few years to adjust, but now we’re here. With a crippling lockout looming, half the league felt obligated to do … something. You could split the motivations of the 30 franchises into eight groups.
• Motivation No. 1: “We need to make a splash! We need to get people talking!”
• Motivation No. 2: “We need to blow up our immediate future, build something more substantial, and hopefully our fans don’t hate us for it.”
• Motivation No. 3: “We have a chance to make the Finals and need one more piece.”
• Motivation No. 4: “We need to get under the luxury tax and/or create cap space for The Unknown Post-2011 World.”
• Motivation No. 5: “We need to save money — our owners who may or may not be three brothers who made the mistake of building a second wing of their Las Vegas casino right as the economy was crashing and now are discreetly trying to sell that casino and are trying to move their NBA team to another city as long as you give them a $100 million interest-free loan so they can pay the relocation fees because they couldn’t be more broke right now.”
• Motivation No. 6: “We’re neither good nor bad. We’re in no man’s land. Crap. Maybe a trade would get our fans to forget this for a week or so.”
• Motivation No. 7: “It’s a gigantic conflict of interest that we own this team. Really, we just took it over for contraction leverage in the CBA negotiations. But the team might contend in the playoffs, so it’s not a bad idea to add one more player even if we have to take on a little payroll — let’s just hope that Mark Cuban doesn’t make a big stink about it.”
• Motivation No. 8: “I don’t need to do anything! I’m Sam Effing Presti! I’ll make a trade when I’m good and $*#$%^ ready! STOP PUSHING ME!”
Without further ado, a 2011 trade deadline report card for the Formerly No Balls Association …
THE KNICKS: A-minus
I was stunned that my Knicks fan buddies were split over the Carmelo trade. Some loved it, some thought they gave up too much. The dissenters made the same point: “Why give up that much when we could just sign him this summer?”
Here’s the problem: the Nuggets knew that (A) Carmelo was never signing an extension in New Jersey, and (B) Carmelo wanted a $65 million extension as much as he wanted to play for the Knicks. Their savviest play was to keep him past the deadline and play the odds: something like a 90 percent chance that Carmelo would have grabbed the $65 million and a 10 percent chance that he would have been stupidly stubborn enough to say, “I’m out of here, I don’t care if it costs me $20 million, I’m gone.” Few NBA players would ever do that, and no self-respecting agent would ever allow that. It just wouldn’t happen. Their move would be to sign the extension, play hard for the rest of the season, then push for a trade that summer. At that point, Denver could have had 29 teams bidding for him instead of one. Everyone wins.
That’s what terrified the Knicks: Seven months of foreplay going up in smoke because Denver played those 90 percent odds and said, “Screw it, let’s keep him.” So why didn’t the Nuggets do that? Because they’re being run by a rookie general manager (Masai Ujiri) and a rookie figurehead (Josh Kroenke, the 30-year-old son of owner Stan Kroenke), neither of whom wanted to kick off their Nuggets reign by becoming the two bumbling idiots who rolled the dice on a Carmelo extension, then watched him skip off to New York for nothing. Denver needed to save face with a decent deal, which it did: Danilo Gallinari, a future No. 1 pick, a year and a half of Wilson Chandler, a giant trade exception and a severe payroll slash. And the Knicks nailed a rare chance to land another superstar who wanted to play for them — in the James Dolan Era, not exactly a common occurrence — instead of keeping their fingers crossed for the 2012 free agent class and Amare’s knee ligaments not to turn into two bowls of fettucini. Of course …
AGREEING WITH A DECISION PUSHED BY JAMES DOLAN AND ISIAH THOMAS: D-minus
Reports of a Dolan/Isiah collaboration framed the opinions of Knicks fans across the world: If Dolan and Isiah agreed on something, then naturally, that’s something they shouldn’t want. I get that. Believe me. But Anthony Randolph was a sunk cost. Timofey Mozgov is a 24-year-old, relatively clumsy center with bad hands who played ONE good game all season. And Chauncey Billups and Ray Felton cancel each other out for this season and next. I think Billups will fare better than Felton did in New York — he’s a killer 3-point shooter, he’s been in a ton of big games and he’ll play with an edge because he’s probably pissed off that everyone regarded him as a throw-in for this trade. He’s also never played for a team with two A-list scorers before. And you can’t leave him open from outside. (He shoots 44 percent on 3-pointers; Felton shoots 33 percent. Just sayin’.) But for the purposes of this trade, it’s a wash: You’re getting solid production in 2011 and 2012 either way.
So really, the trade came down to the Knicks getting Carmelo for Gallinari, Chandler and a 2014 No. 1 pick. Gallinari will never make an All-Star team, but he’s a dangerous streak shooter; Knicks fans loved him; he wasn’t afraid of big moments; and with Derek Jeter getting married, he was the prohibitive favorite to become the New York Athlete Who Spends The Next 10 Years Plowing Through Every Model And Celebrity In The Tri-State Area. Chandler? A solid small forward putting up inflated stats in a run-and-gun system; on any contender, he’s an eighth or ninth man. Don’t you flip Chandler, Gallo and a pick for Carmelo every day and twice on Sunday? Don’t you do it without blinking? What am I missing? I’m on Team Dolan & Team Isiah with this one. I will now light myself on fire with a JD & The Straight Shot poster.
PEOPLE WHO FORGET THAT YOU SHOULD ALWAYS TRADE THREE OR FOUR QUARTERS FOR A DOLLAR IN BASKETBALL: F-minus
If you disagree with the previous few paragraphs, you’re bucking five solid decades of NBA history. Since 1965, not one NBA team that traded a package of pieces for a superstar regretted it after the fact. Don’t believe me? Here’s the complete list:
1965: Philly trades Connie Dierking, Paul Neumann, Lee Shaffer and cash to San Francisco for Wilt Chamberlain.
1968: Lakers trade Jerry Chambers, Archie Clark and Darrell Imhoff to Philly for Wilt Chamberlain.
1970: Milwaukee trades Flynn Robinson and Charlie Paulk to Cincinnati for Oscar Robertson.
1975: Lakers trade Elmore Smith, Brian Winters, Dave Meyers and Junior Bridgeman to Milwaukee for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
1983: Philly trades Caldwell Jones and Cleveland’s 1983 first-rounder (No. 3, Rodney McCray) to Houston for Moses Malone.
1993: Phoenix trades Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry and Andrew Lang to Philly for Charles Barkley.
1994: Washington trades Tom Gugliotta, 1996 first-rounder (No. 11, Todd Fuller), 1998 first (No. 13, Keon Clark) and 2000 first (No. 7, Chris Mihm) to Golden State for Chris Webber.
1996: Houston trades Robert Horry, Sam Cassell, Chucky Brown and Mark Bryant to Phoenix for Charles Barkley.
1996: Phoenix trades Michael Finley, Sam Cassell, A.C. Green and a 1998 No. 2 (No. 53, Greg Buckner) to Dallas for Jason Kidd, Tony Dumas and Loren Meyer.
1999: Phoenix trades Danny Manning, Pat Garrity, 2001 first-rounder (No. 18, Jason Collins) and 2002 first (No. 9, Amare Stoudemire) to Orlando for Penny Hardaway.
2004: Houston trades Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley and Kelvin Cato to Orlando for Tracy McGrady, Tyronn Lue, Reece Gaines and Juwan Howard.
2005: New Jersey trades Alonzo Mourning, Eric Williams, Aaron Williams, Philly’s 2005 No. 1 pick (No. 16, Joey Graham) and a 2006 No. 1 (No. 20, Renaldo Balkman) to Toronto for Vince Carter.
2005: Miami trades Lamar Odom, Brian Grant, Caron Butler, a 2006 No. 1 (No. 26, Jordan Farmar) and a 2006 No. 2 (No. 50, Renaldas Seibutis) to the Lakers for Shaquille O’Neal.
2007: Boston trades Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, a 2009 No. 1 (No. 28, Wayne Ellington) and the rights to Minnesota’s 2009 No. 1 (No. 6, Jonny Flynn) to Minnesota for Kevin Garnett.
2008: Lakers trade Kwame Brown, Jarvaris Crittendon, Aaron McKie, the rights to Marc Gasol, a 2008 No. 1 (No. 28, Donte Greene) and a 2010 No. 1 (No. 28, Greivis Vasquez) to Memphis for Pau Gasol.
That’s 15 trades in all. Eight of them (Wilt, Wilt again, Oscar, Moses, Barkley, Shaq, KG and Gasol) resulted in a championship or a Finals appearance within two seasons. The Lakers ended up winning five titles with Kareem. Houston came within two wins and a Matt Maloney meltdown of making the ’97 Finals with Barkley. Jersey easily won the Vince trade; same for Houston with T-Mac. Phoenix won the Kidd trade, although Finley had a nice career in Dallas. Washington’s Webber deal could have backfired if any of the picks panned out … but they didn’t. Only Phoenix’s Penny deal failed to work out, but in a strange twist, the Suns got their No. 1 pick back in a subsequent deal and took Stoudemire with it, so even THAT trade worked out. Fifteen for 15! When in doubt, you always want to grab the dollar bill if you’re giving up change in the NBA.
PEOPLE WHO DON’T REALIZE THAT CARMELO IS A LEGITIMATE SUPERSTAR: F-minus-minus
One of the strangest subplots this week: Everyone rushing to pick Carmelo’s game apart, especially people who rely on advanced metrics and ended up getting caught up in small-picture stuff. Carmelo has one elite skill (he rebounds extremely well for a small forward) and one transcendent skill (he’s as good as anyone in the league at scoring and/or getting to the line, especially in crunch time). You can absolutely, positively, unquestionably win a championship if Carmelo Anthony is your creator at the end of a basketball game. The Knicks didn’t have anyone like that. Few teams do.
Now throw this in: He’s only 26.
Now throw this in: Ten guys started the 2011 All-Star Game. In a 30-team league, the Knicks suddenly have two of them.
Now throw this in: The other players know. They know who’s good. They know who’s worth a damn. They know who they’d go to war with. So you can’t discount (A) how well Carmelo played on the 2008 Olympic team; (B) how much the other guys respected him; and (C) how the key guys on that team were Kobe, LeBron, Wade and Carmelo. It can’t be forgotten. It just can’t. Neither can the fact that he nearly carried a limited Nuggets team to the Finals two years ago.
Now throw this in: If there was ever a player who could be ignited by a great basketball city and a consistently fantastic crowd, it’s Carmelo Anthony. He’s been stuck in a relatively icy cruise control for two solid years, playing in a city he didn’t totally love, being professional about it, trying hard every game … and yet, there was something detached about him. No longer. I hate how he weaseled his way to the Knicks and pissed on Denver fans, but that’s over. Let’s look at this thing objectively: He’s going to kill it with the Knicks. I’d bet anything. They haven’t had someone like this since Bernard King, which is funny because I always thought Melo was Bernard 2.0. Playing in New York isn’t for everyone, but in this case, it will be the best thing that ever happened to Carmelo Anthony.
I keep hearing that you can’t win a title with Melo and Amare. Agreed. But you can win the title with Carmelo, Amare and Chris Paul (or Dwight Howard, or Deron Williams). In the short term, you can make some noise, rock the building and make Knicks fans forget about the 10 excruciating years they just endured. And you can scare the living hell out of the fans from the other Eastern contenders. Believe me, as a Celtics fan, I want no part of the Knicks this spring for one reason: You never want to play a playoff series in which the other team has the best guy. There’s a decent chance Carmelo could just go off 1984 Bernard-style in Round 1 or Round 2. I’m crapping my pants just thinking about it. Over everything else, THAT is why they had to make this trade. A week ago, the Knicks were a .500 team. Now, they matter. And if you’re throwing stats at me, I’ll counter with this one: 15 for 15. Thank you and please drive through.
THE UNINTENTIONAL COMEDY POTENTIAL OF BARON DAVIS GETTING SHIPPED TO CLEVELAND: A-plus
I want NBC to give Baron a show called “Bizarro Biggest Loser,” since he’s probably going to gain 10 pounds a week over the next three months. If you were going to create a “How Fast Can Person X Balloon?” scale, Baron getting shipped to a hopeless lottery team to play for a coach he feuded with in New Orleans has to rank up there with DeNiro playing Jake LaMotta and any woman in her mid-40s who just found out she was pregnant with in vitro twins. We’re 48 hours away from Baron firing his personal chef and replacing him with Jack from Jack in the Box.
As a Clippers season-ticket holder, I’m torn: Baron is one of those guys who feeds off the crowd, but if the crowd sucks, he just feeds himself. They should have known that before they wasted $60 million on him. After drifting through that mammoth deal for two-plus years, Baron reinvented himself as Blake’s duke muse and got himself into reasonably mediocre condition — although it’s worth mentioning that, on Saturday night, my friend Kevin joked, “I can’t believe the dunk contest referees are in better shape than Baron Davis.”
The real shame is that, had Baron been healthy and motivated from the get-go, Blake would have singlehandedly re-established him as an elite point guard. So you get what you deserve. I liked Baron Davis personally, but as a paying customer, I remain disappointed that he quit on the Clippers over trying to turn them around. If you’re getting paid like a franchise player, you need to act like one … right? That the Clippers included an unprotected 2011 lottery pick just to dump his ample rear end should tell you something. That reminds me …
THE UNINTENTIONAL COMEDY OF CLIPPERS FANS: B-plus
A few e-mailed me last night, “Now we have enough cap room in 2012 to make a run at Howard, CP3 or D-Will!” You know, because African-American marquee free agents definitely want to play for Donald Sterling, someone who heckles his own players and has been involved in more than one racial discrimination suit.
Don’t get me wrong, upgrading to Mo Williams, shedding Baron’s gruesome contract (which runs through 2013) and giving up a top-10 pick in the worst draft in 11 years was totally defensible. But the Clippers made this deal for three reasons: to create money for a DeAndre Jordan extension (this summer) and an Eric Gordon extension (next summer), and to rope their beaten-down season-ticket holders into believing their team might make a free agent splash in the summer of 2012. Like that would ever happen. You’d have a better chance of seeing CBS tape a live episode of “Two and a Half Men.” Then again, if Eric Bledsoe matures, and Dwight Howard wants to play in Los Angeles but the Lakers can’t pull it off … oh, God! See how fast you can get sucked in?
Quick story: A friend of mine sat near Sterling during the slam dunk contest. Worried they were going to be introduced, he e-mailed me, “What should I do?” I e-mailed him back, “Don’t touch him!” He e-mailed back, “We were introduced. Had to shake his hand. He’s amazingly creepy.” I e-mailed back, “Bad things will happen to you now. Do you have a pet? That pet will die tonight.” Here’s the point: No superstar will willingly sign with the Clippers until this man sells. Especially after what just happened to Baron’s career.
(Cut to Baron nodding with a mouth full of nachos.)
EVERYONE WHO CLAIMS THE NBA IS BEING RUINED BECAUSE SUPERSTARS WANT TO CONTROL WHERE THEY PLAY: D-minus
What a lazy argument. Over the past six decades, the following players pushed their way from a worse situation to a (seemingly) better one either by trade or free agency: Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, Rick Barry, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, Bill Walton, Kevin Garnett, Allen Iverson, Gary Payton, Ray Allen, Jason Kidd, Clyde Drexler … should I keep going? Now this “phenomenon” is endangering the game???
As Kenny Smith said last night, “If [a small-market team] builds the right pieces around the right guy, he will stay.” Period. Duncan stayed in San Antonio because it built the right team around him. Stockton and Malone stayed in Utah because they had each other. Durant will stay in Oklahoma City because of Westbrook and everyone else. LeBron left Cleveland mainly because it made bad trades and signed the wrong guys. And Utah never would have thought it might lose Deron Williams if it hadn’t screwed up the roster around him. Besides, why is it such a bad thing to have six or seven loaded teams and six or seven terrible ones? Oh crap, I hate seeing the Finals with all these elite players! Give me a break.
STEVE NASH SUMMER TRADE RUMORS: B-plus
Phoenix’s acquisition of Aaron Brooks (for Goran Dragic and a future No. 1 pick) opens the door for Nash’s departure this summer to Vancouver Relocated Franchise X. Can’t you see Nash crying during the Canadian national anthem at that first home game? He’d either be crying because of the emotion of the moment, or because it just dawned on him that Phoenix came within a botched boxout of Game 7 of the 2010 conference finals and then immediately gutted that team. I’m still waiting for Nash to file a civil suit against Robert Sarver for destroying his chance to win a title. The defense calls … Marcus Banks.
THE EWING THEORY: A-minus
Put it this way: We’re catching a strong whiff of it in Denver. The Ewing Theory Committee is on alert.
ANY TRADE THAT RESULTS IN A MARK CUBAN TIRADE: A-minus
When New Orleans (owned and operated by the other 29 owners) traded Marcus Thornton for Carl Landry and absorbed $2.24 million of additional payroll, Cuban rightfully flipped out, wondering, “There’s no way, with their payroll, having to dump salary before they were sold to us [NBA owners]; now they can take on more salary while they’re losing money. That’s just wrong every which way.”
Translation: “I thought we took this team over so we could threaten the players’ union this summer that we were gonna contract it! What the hell? Now we’re shelling out MORE money! One twenty-ninth of $2.24 million is more than $115,000 — that’s money I could use to obscenely overpay Tyson Chandler this summer! Come on!”
(For the record: I loved the Landry trade for New Orleans. He was lost on that train wreck of a Kings team playing with too many power forwards and not enough point guards in an “every man for himself” situation. One of the many great things about Chris Paul: He knows where everyone on his team likes the ball, then he gets them the ball in those spots. Sounds simple, but you’d be amazed how few point guards do it: Rondo, Nash, Paul, Deron Williams … and that’s the whole list. Chris Paul is going to rejuvenate Landry’s career as a low-post threat in about two weeks. You watch. Sneaky-good deal for the Hornets.)
TRADING WITH CHRIS WALLACE: A-plus-plus-plus
Has anyone ever said the words, “I wish I hadn’t made that trade with Chris Wallace?”
The latest beneficiary: Houston’s Daryl Morey, who flipped 25 games of Shane Battier (a free agent to be) into Hasheem Thabeet and a protected first-round pick. Naysayers would argue that Thabeet is a stiff — partly because he’s been a total stiff, and partly because he’s been a total stiff. But Raymond Felton, Michael Beasley, Channing Frye, Tyson Chandler, Mike Miller, Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson, Lamar Odom, Richard Hamilton, Chauncey Billups and Antonio Daniels were all top-10 picks who struggled with their first teams and blossomed somewhere else. You should always bet on pedigree if the price is low. Sure, I’d probably bet on Thabeet being on the receiving end of Blake Griffin’s greatest dunk over having a worthwhile career with the Rockets. But you never know. And if you’re not giving up anything, then why not?
(Important note: The previous paragraph represents my best possible attempt to defend the fact that my friend Daryl traded a quality player for a package headlined by Hasheem Thabeet. Put it this way: Until yesterday, he’s called me within 12 hours of any trade he’s ever done. Not this time. Which bummed me out because I was excited to congratulate him for beefing up his D-League team. And if Thabeet ends up turning his career around? Daryl will just e-mail me this paragraph 700 times per day. Either way, I’m excited that Thabeet just became a much more prominent part of my life. I can’t lose. Back to the column.)
As for Wallace, he deserves credit for protecting Memphis’ playoff spot with Rudy Gay injured. The Grizzlies have been a sneaky-good League Pass team for over a month now (13-4 in their past 17 games), and if they faced the Lakers in Round 1 as a 7-seed, that’s a fascinating series: Gasol versus Gasol, Battier and Tony Allen versus Kobe, Chris Wallace versus Mitch Kupchak (three years after the Gasol hijacking), Z-Bo taking it to everybody, the emotional return of O.J. Mayo to USC territory after he destroyed sports there, maybe even Chuck Noland coming back for the game and getting an ovation between quarters. Remember we had this moment, Lakers fans: There might be a time in Round 1 when you’re swearing at the TV and saying, “Really, Chris Wallace???? REALLY? You trade the No. 2 pick in the 2009 draft and a future No. 1 to rent Battier for four months AND THIS #$@%@&@& WORKED?!?!?!?!?!?!?”
Bill Simmons is a columnist for ESPN.com and the author of the recent New York Times No. 1 best-seller ” The Book of Basketball,” now out in paperback with new material and a revised Hall of Fame Pyramid. For every Simmons column and podcast, check out Sports Guy’s World or the BS Report page. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sportsguy33.