“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.
AP Photo/Tony Avelar
It all seemed so futile, right up until it didn’t. When the Golden State Warriors signed DeMarcus Cousins to a one-year, well-below-market value contract in the summer of 2018, it was as if the embarrassment of riches had itself become embarrassed. It is nice to have nice things; it is rude to flaunt those nice things so rabidly that the idea of not having any of it becomes offensive.
When Kawhi Leonard, the Board Man, decided it was his time to fell another dynastic squad, however, there was little that Golden State could do about it. Through an unreplicable series of transactions, the Toronto Raptors were able to beat the Warriors at their own game. On Thursday night, in the final NBA game ever at Oracle Arena, the Raptors became the world champions, bringing a title to the homeland of the sport’s inventor.
Rock’N The City – Ylli Haruni
You’re talking yourself into this, huh? You listened to Drake’s entire discography (again) after the Eastern Conference Finals, and now you think the Raptors could do this thing, the thing only LeBron James and co. have accomplished over the past five years – and even then, only once in four tries. It will take a distinctly 2016 Cavs-esque effort, and perhaps some of the similar circumstances, for the Toronto Raptors to fell the Golden State Warriors.
Finally, after months of three-game road trips, Kia commercials and the proliferation of the phrase “load management,” we have arrived. The NBA Finals begin tonight, pitting two teams on different trajectories in a truly international showdown.
I found myself in a rather unfamiliar position on Monday night, one with which eggs the world over are, or at least affect being, familiar. I was laughing at the absurdity of something I’d read on the internet and should’ve been upset about, not my preferred state by any means but a go-to coping mechanism for the daily nuisances-cum-societal atrocities which inhabit most of our lives. All this during a mostly delightful World Cup, no less.
After a whirlwind first two days of NBA free agency, the dust seemed to have settled for the night when, like a child inadvertently popping your balloon, Yahoo Sports’ Shams Charania, the next-gen Adrian Wojnarowski, broke the news that broke the camel’s back: free agent center DeMarcus Cousins, a four-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA player late of the New Orleans Pelicans and currently undergoing rehab for a torn Achilles tendon, had signed with the Golden State Warriors for one year at the taxpayer mid-level exception of $5.3 million. All hell hasn’t broken loose; it’s ripped the door off and is eating it out of amusement.
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.
Click here for an enlarged version of the above photo; you’re gonna need it.
Though they actually began on August 3rd with several group stage soccer matches, the Olympics spring to life in the hearts of most with today’s opening ceremony. Working with a budget of roughly £3 million, a tenth of what the 2012 opening ceremony in London cost, a nation ill-equipped to host an Olympics is going to go full-throttle into it anyway, featuring such Brazilian luminaries as Gisele Bundchen and Dame Judi Dench in the Maracana, where the Olympic cauldron will receive the Flame. Much has already been made of the ethical and economic implications of these Olympics, and more awaits. Either way, they’re here now, so we may as well do our best to embrace them.
The U.S. figures to play a prominent role in most competitions, with swimming, gymnastics and track and field being among the most noteworthy. Basketball, also, is notable, though most have written off the tournament as one in which every country aside from the United States is battling for second. That seems reasonable; this country would be loath to repeat a disaster like what happened in Athens in 2004. To mark the Games, 2K Sports has released an Olympic team available for play, not unlike when they did so in 2012 with the Dream and Redeem Teams. So, sure, the real-life versions of these NBA stars are extremely likely to bring home the gold. The NBA2K equivalents pictured above, however, seem bound for much dimmer pastures.
It’s almost the middle of September, which means it’s almost October, which means it’s almost time for basketball season. With the NFL stumbling over itself at every turn – which, come to think of it, is how most of its current players will spend their autumn years, in their mid-40s – and baseball casually winding toward the postseason (we see you, Mets), basketball still stakes a claim in some part of the sports conversation, even if you aren’t watching EuroBasket games in the middle of your afternoon (On Wednesday, Italy mounted a comeback to force overtime and beat Germany, 89-82). Tuesday’s announcement that NBA division winners are no longer guaranteed playoff spots kick-started much of the hibernating excitement which will roll us into the upcoming season.
With basketball season breathing down our necks, it’s time to start considering how some of the pieces of Adam Silver’s puzzle will fit, how they will interact with one another and how they can realize their potential. One of the most interesting teams for this basketball season has long been a laughingstock, even with a generational talent who may very well be the best pure center in the NBA. Now, that team has two potential game-changing centers, as well as a hodgepodge of players who either grew out of previous roles or never quite fit into them in the first place. The Sacramento Kings aren’t good, yet, but they could be, and they’re seemingly better; they aren’t stable, yet, but they were for a brief time last year; and they aren’t a favorite, which may end up making them one of the most dangerous teams in the league.
Short class this week, gang. The All-Star Break interrupts an intense Western Conference playoff race, and one of its most entertaining teams just made a key hire, perhaps in a case of too little, too late. Elsewhere, Carmelo Anthony seems destined for a shutdown after the break, and the NBA is celebrating the rich history of basketball in New York City. Which borough would you take?
Klay Thompson enjoyed a record-setting 37-point quarter last week against the Sacramento Kings, sending the internet into a frenzy and reminding people that Steph Curry is not the only #heatcheck member of the NBA’s best team. Not to be outdone, Kyrie Irving put up 55 points against the Blazers without the help of LeBron James. Elsewhere, Damian Lillard of that aforementioned Blazers team is thankful to his detractors for not being an All-Star, and DeMarcus Cousins, noted first-time All-Star, corrects a writer on Instagram.