Happy New Year, ladies and gentleman of the NBA-watching populous. It’s that time of year again, when we use the descent of a magical disco ball in New York City as a metaphor for new beginnings.
We celebrate with copious amounts of alcohol and kisses at midnight. But New Year’s is really all about turning a new page. It’s an arbitrary day to do so, but plenty of things in life are arbitrary. So why not decide to improve your life the same day you hang a new calendar in your kitchen?
The same can be said for the NBA. Every team will reach that point someday. A day will come when a GM will blow it up and start from scratch. It may come at the end of a disappointing season in which it’s deemed a team cannot win with its current roster construction. Other times, it comes mid-season when a team concedes it can’t win that given year and enters full-fledged tanking mode. That’s why you see franchise players dealt at the trade deadline for future picks. Teams are no longer playing for the present. They’ve started over and are now looking toward the future.
It’s hard to pinpoint the very moment it will happen in the NBA. When a team starts over, it’s not pretty. In the NBA, to truly start anew, a team needs to bottom out and rebuild through shrewd free agent signings and smart draft selections.
But when that rebuild goes well, nothing feels better. At the dawn of 2014, there are plenty of teams that are back at square one. Some are perennially at the beginning of something new. Others you might not expect. It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day. Well, you know the rest.
Take it away Nina!
So this week, I’ll be reviewing the teams that are starting over, the prospects of these teams actually turning it around, and whether it’s worth investing any of my rooting interests in these home improvements projects.
It seems like every year the Cavaliers are starting over. They started over when they drafted Anthony Bennett (the Notorious DNP) in the 2013 draft. They were starting over in 2011, when they took Kyrie Irving with the first pick. They were supposed to end years of futility when they brought the talents of King James to town. And yet, here we are. The Cavaliers are in a perpetual rebuild.
But now that talk has intensified around a trade with the Lakers concerning Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.
First, let’s address this Bynum mess. Of course this is how this signing for Cleveland would work out. After sitting out the entire 2012 season with an injury, Bynum signs with Cleveland, hoping he could return to the glory days, if we can call it that, of when he played with the Lakers. Instead, the Cavs have suspended him indefinitely for behavior detrimental to the team. The only saving grace is that Bynum’s contract isn’t guaranteed for the second half of the year, so he’ll be gone soon enough either way.
If Cleveland can move Bynum for Gasol, this is a huge win for the Cavs. They’d be trading literally nothing, as Bynum is out the door one way or the other, for one of the league’s top players. They’d finally be pairing their superstar guard with a fellow star, and they’re easily be one of the 5 most competitive teams in the East (the latter half isn’t saying much, but hey, a 5 seed’s a 5 seed anyway you slice it).
If the Cavs can pull off an impressive trade this season, it would mark a new era in Cleveland in which this team is actually a contender, not only on the court, but in the negotiating market as well.
But sure enough, just when things are looking up…
Irving is day-to-day with a knee injury. Of course. Cleveland.
Now, I won’t rule the Cavs out of this competition just yet, but I will concede it will be hard to choose them. It has got to be tough to pull yourself out of bed everyday knowing you’re a Cavs fan.
But then again, I’m a sucker for the underdog. Play on Cleveland! It’s a new year.
Los Angeles Lakers
Now, onto the Lakers half of this trade talk. Can you believe we live in a world in which the LOS ANGELES LAKERS are making a trade purely to save money on their cap? Trading their best active player for cap room?
But hey, it’s a new year, and it’s a new era under the latest collective bargaining agreement. The Lakers are just playing by a new and harsher set of rules. At the end of the day, I like the trade for the Lakers as well. Dump the talent you have to make way for a brighter future, even if getting Bynum in return for Gasol is like trading away your iPad for an old Dell with a cracked screen.
Now, all the Lakers need to do next is let the contacts of their aging stars expire and start a full-fledged rebuild. It’s tough imagining the day the Lakers take the court without the specter of Kobe Bryant on the team, but…
Wait, what? They just gave him a two-year extension worth $48.5 million? Christ.
Getting Bryant to retire is like getting your crotchety grandfather to stop driving. He just won’t give up the keys until he drives the car into a tree, and now the Lakers are stuck with an old man behind the wheel for another two years.
The man tore his Achilles, and he was back 8 months later. That’s a near impossible time table for a young man. Kobe is 35. 35! (Sorry, I forgot numbers are already in caps. The second 35 wasn’t as dramatic as I hoped.) I don’t think it’s any coincidence that he comes back so soon and suffers another major injury, this time a fracture in his left knee.
There are only so many trips to Germany a man can make before the fountain of youth dries up, and Bryant looks to be slurping every last drop through his straw. Bryant isn’t the answer for the future, and by the looks of things, the Lakers may have come to that realization too (It might have been better to realize this before they put pen to paper and gave Bryant that contract extension, but hey, better late than never).
My idol and the godfather of quirky sports blogging, Bill Simmons, already laid out the ultimate blue print for the Lakers tanking-fueled rebuild, so I won’t try to improve on his game plan. All I know is this: if the Lakers keep clinging to Bryant and the past, they’re only pushing off the inevitable bottoming out, not avoiding it. Now, with Bryant’s huge cap hit on the books for the next two years, it looks like it may be some time before the Lakers will hit full rebuilding mode.
What the Lakers really need is a good old-fashioned New Year’s eve countdown. But at the end, they don’t need a ball to drop. Instead, when they count backwards all the way to one, they need to push the button on their detonator, truly demolishing the team they have, and start anew.
Lastly, let’s discuss a team that’s really looking forward to 2104. Toronto isn’t at the beginnings of being a new team. They are a new team.
I know it’s hard to image Toronto exporting anything of value other that gratuitous amounts of manners and maple syrup, but it appears they’ve also put together a pretty darn good basketball team north of the border.
At the moment, the Raptors are only a half game behind Atlanta for the third seed in the East, and with Al Horford now out for the season, it looks like a sure thing Toronto will overtake Atlanta by season’s end. How did we get here? With some tremendous trades.
In early December, the Raptors dumped Rudy Gay on the Sacramento Kings, in exchange for some considerable depth, including the likes of John Salmons and Greivis Vasquez. I’ve always believed Gay was a slightly overrated player, and it looks like Toronto came to the same conclusion.
The best trade the Raptors made to this point, however, was dealing Andrea Bargnani to the Knicks in exchange for, again, rotation players and draft choices. In hindsight, this is a no-brainer win for the Raptors. While Bargnani has been a disaster for the Knicks, the Raptors acquired my favorite rotation player, 3-point specialist Steve Novak.
He’s the man.
More practically, the Raptors now have the Knicks’ 2016 first-round draft pick. Bargnani is clearly no longer worth a first-round pick, and the Raptors dealt him for that an more. A steal.
But trade talk is heating up again, with plenty of teams inquiring about veteran guard Kyle Lowry. While the Raptors are hot now, the question they have to ask themselves is, “Can they beat the Heat or Pacers in a seven-game series?”
Lowry is in the last year of his contract, and it’s a good possibility he won’t be back next year. If the Raptors don’t think they can win it all this year, they should be looking to next year, even if they are a 3 seed.
Lowry could net the Raptors its third big haul in the past year and set Toronto up for success for the foreseeable future. It’s scary to think that the Raptors are not only contending this year, but could be formidable for a long time coming.
But then again, this is our new year. This is our 2014. It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day. One more time, Nina!