“Rover, Red Rover” – Arthur Leipzig
Free agency in professional sports, in its ideal form, is the best and most prominent example of the free market at work that exists in this country. A worker earns their keep; their employer either decides that they are or are not worth the trouble, and then there are suitors everywhere lining up to give that person their just deserts. It’s deceptively simple.
Yet – and that word does a percentage of the salary cap’s worth of lifting here – it is much more deceptive than simple. The salary cap itself is one measure of inequality-via-equality; were LeBron James ever paid as much as he deserved in his career, he would likely be rivaling Gaius Appuleius Diocles at this point. Alas, at least in salary-capped leagues, the reality is thus: make what you can of what you have, and be judicious with your forecasts. A tornado doesn’t have to spring up to be destructive; if it gets you to move, it’s done enough of its job.
At a time reported to be 7:30 pm Eastern but which will probably be sometime shortly thereafter, the 2019 NBA Draft will begin tonight. That means that, for the devoted, a tweet, or text of a tweet, from Adrian Wojnarowski will pop across their phone screens, sometime between 7:28 and 7:30, informing the masses what we’ve all known since before the Anthony Davis trade, before the All-Star Game, before Christmas: that Zion Williamson of Duke will be the #1 overall pick.
That he is presumably going to New Orleans is the karmic injustice befitting a team that wasted Davis’ first seven years in the league but which new general manager David Griffin is already turning toward the future. If Zion happens to be the key to open that particular sarcophagus, alongside the newly-acquired Lakers tweens, then the Pelicans will be raising hurricanes, toasting the next decade of success.
If he’s caught in the right place at the wrong time, however, then the draft gods will have proven infallible once again. That’s the beauty and sorrow of any professional sports draft, but this year, and this one, feels especially momentous.
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.
They said it was coming, but then – they tend to say a lot of things that don’t end up coming to fruition, don’t they? The Industrial Revolution presented us with a future that increased efficiency in equal measures, counterintuitively, with the waste they created; electricity allowed us to light, to heat, to dance into the night and passively allow dawn to become more a frame of reference than a time; Future is called Future, but he lives in the present, so what, or when, is he, exactly?
Health, though, is the great equalizer, one never to be fooled by fancy gadgetry or horse economics, ailments simultaneously unpredictable and inevitable. Anthony Davis has missed a combined 82 games out of 492 since he entered the league with the now-New Orleans Pelicans. That equates to a full regular season of NBA basketball. Comparatively, the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo has missed 17 games of a possible 414 after entering the league a full season after Davis.
These two are the (extremely early, but completely veritable) frontrunners for MVP this year. What separates them on the surface are their respectively unique and valuable skillsets, but what may very well make the difference between them in this particular race is that ever elusive, despicably cunning bill of health, springing up for you to care at only the most improper times.
It’s not like Anthony Davis expected this, either. Coming into the season, expectations for the New Orleans Pelicans were sky-high, having run off an 11-14 record to close last season following the trade for DeMarcus Cousins that nevertheless inspired hope in a fan base accustomed to insipid displays by 11 of a dressed 12 on any given night.
In this era of normalizing the relatively small – that is, getting used to seeing otherwise jarringly large humans between 6’7” and 6’10” thrown into lineups and deemed “small for their position, traditionally, but with the ability to space the floor!,” the Twin Towers look had been out of fashion with few exceptions. Then, literally during last season’s All-Star Weekend, the Pelicans traded for the Swiss Army knife that is Boogie to pair alongside erstwhile Best in the World-in-waiting Anthony Davis.
The tandem worked kinks out toward the end of last season, the team re-signed Jrue Holiday and brought Rajon Rondo in for maximum weirdness, and everybody prepared for the Pelicans to be THE League Pass fodder to watch. Until…they meshed, better than expected, and went 27-21 through their first 48 games.
I was in the midst of enjoying the end to a rare blowout victory by the New York Knicks over the Phoenix Suns on Friday night when a studio update, or some equivalent thereof, passed along the news, complete with accompanying video: DeMarcus Cousins had sustained some grave leg injury. Soon thereafter, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski confirmed the worst: that Cousins had torn his Achilles tendon and would miss 6-10 months, ending his season and raising questions aplenty for the present and future of his current team, the New Orleans Pelicans.
The film was predictably mundane, the perennial All-Star having gone to contest a rebound on his own missed foul shot against Trevor Ariza before crumbling to the floor. No gruesome, Gordon Hayward/Paul George/Kevin Ware-esque action, nor anything you would notice without the assistance of slow motion replay, struck Cousins, yet there he was, on the floor of an arena full of fans that had embraced him wholeheartedly since arriving from Sacramento during the All-Star break last year. They may have wished him their final farewell on Friday night, prematurely and unexpectedly.
NBA Entertainment via Getty Images
We ought to take a moment to discuss a particular player who is lighting the NBA on fire right now, doing things that few in league history have ever done. He is a 22-year-old big man who played one season for the legendary coach of a prominent college basketball program before declaring for the 2012 NBA Draft. His name is not Anthony Davis.
Right now, as of this moment, Andre Drummond is averaging 20.3 points and 19.5 rebounds per game while leading a surprisingly potent, 3-1 Detroit Pistons team. Head coach Stan Van Gundy has his players coalescing not so much like a wall as like a charging stallion, and Drummond, as much as anyone, is to thank for that.