A Shot and a Blindfold

Assyrian king and Marduk-zakir-Å¡umi I of Babylon shaking hands in a public display of Assyro-Babylonian friendship. Reproduced from M. E. L. Mallowan, Nimrud and its remains, London 1966, vol. 2, 447 fig. 371d.

From “Peace and Conflict Monitor,” depicting diplomacy in 2300 BC

I’m not so much scared as just, well, on notice. Who knows what could happen? At any time, somebody may think more of you than everybody else, and then you’re onto a new journey, full of promise, confidence and relative autonomy. Conversely, though, maybe somebody decides you’re worth less than that, and you end up an errand person, subsisting on coffee and nodding your way through days that are no more notable than others as you try to take stock of who you are, where you are and how you can change one or both of those things.

Has it ever occurred to you just why you look at your phone so much? Starting from the premise that nobody on Twitter is actually that funny, so – Let me backtrack. Maybe you don’t check it that much, and if not, more power to you. It might be a performative power play on your part, but even in that case, you’re doing better than Rob in accounting and the New Orleans Pelicans.

On that last bit: better check your phone right now, just in case Woj has traded you from your cushy, insurance-laden desk job to a gig economy substitute that will drain your bank account as quickly as your will to live. For which, by the way, you’re working. If you’re in the NBA, today is an especially sweat-inducing time, as the trade deadline is upon us, and it has already played out as one of the most unpredictable in years.

On Wednesday night, Harrison Barnes, late of the Golden State Warriors and an original Death Lineup participant, was traded from the Dallas Mavericks to the Sacramento Kings. Unto itself, this is not spectacular; Barnes is a solid player with some obvious shortcomings whose value depends entirely upon the context into which his team places him. A Death Lineup participant can very quickly become the best player on a lottery team and then a tertiary cog on a building squad if he isn’t careful.

What makes it exceptional, though, at least in the public eye, is that Dallas traded Barnes in the middle of a game in which he was playing. I’m serious. Barnes had 10 points and three rebounds in 25 minutes of action before he was pulled off, presumably to be brought back to the locker room, cleansed of his sins and told he was being shipped off to northern California, but not the good (yet!) kind. What lies below represents Harrison Barnes’ final assist of his Dallas Mavericks career:

This is the most anxious NBA trade deadline that I can recall, not just because of what has happened (Anthony Davis, who may or may not be traded during the time in which I’m writing this for Jayson Tatum, a 2023 first round draft pick and the selectively-protected rights to swap nuclear war plans with DPRK in the next five years) but because of what is still to come: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard and the rest of the 2019 free agent class seem to be laughing in our faces – Kawhi especially, outwardly, just so you know he can.

Impending free agency, either of the 2019 or 2020 vintage, has hijacked actual basketball in a way that so far surpasses that of other trade deadlines that it makes the 2013 deadline featuring Kyle Lowry and Iman Shumpert not getting traded – apparently, of course, by James Dolan, destroyer of worlds – seem like a Craigslist transaction. Future free agency has never been more important than it is now, and it may simultaneously be over-valuing and devaluing first round draft picks.

To wit: in the dead of a Wednesday morning hour befitting only the West Coast and Simon & Garfunkel, the Philadelphia 76ers traded for borderline Los Angeles Clippers All-Star, and 2019 free agent, Tobias Harris (and Boban Marjanovic! And also Mike Scott) for rotation guys Wilson Chandler, Landry Shamet and Mike Muscala, the greatest Bucknell Bison, in addition to first-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021 and a pair of second-rounders. The devil you know, right?

Appropriately, the Sixers are going for it. Right now, their core is, or should be, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, with the idea that those two are enough to convince players like Jimmy Butler and Harris to stick around just long enough for this Warriors thing to blow over so that their time can arrive. Alongside JJ Redick, the Sixers now stand to have the best starting five in the East come playoff time, and with rotations being shorter, that will benefit them.

But that’s just one example, and given the short nature of three of those contracts[1], it almost requires cognitive dissonance to reconcile what they want versus what they can provide as a team long-term. With a player like Anthony Davis, the calculus becomes so much more complicated and severe as to be nigh-untenable at this point. Hand in your list, sure, but recognize that the team has you right up until it doesn’t.

Davis’ careening trade request has the entire league, literally, in constant, algebra-adjacent muscle contractions: “IF the Lakers do this¸ then the Celtics might try this, but IF the Knicks get this draft pick, then—” I, too, fantasize about employers leveraging phone bets against each other over me, and I hope to be at a point in my life in which a single tweet of me sending off the stoplight can demonstrably change everything.

As with all things, the trade deadline will pass, as will the phone-centric Zach Lowe/Adrian Wojnarowski television specials[2]. Whatever happens to Davis will certainly change the league, and when it happens, you’ll know it. Have you been traded yet? How else do you expect to learn about a meeting leading to either a promotion or, uhm – Modernity allows for nothing less.

*     *     *

[1] Butler, Harris and Redick will all be free agents this offseason

[2] I enjoy things like this; I have my own inventory to re-assess this trade deadline


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: