“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.
Hello. What follows below the break is the climactic ending to the first Godfather film, but as an NBA basketball team.
Akrotiri Thera Fresco, c. sixteenth century BCE
Likely dating back to the first interaction between civilizations of Homo sapiens from different geographic origins, the trade system is both as simple and complex as one wants it to be. An entity has something; another entity has another thing; each one wants what the other has, giving up as little as possible in order to gain it. With the exception of a few law-making scandals here and some ethical creativity there, that is all trade has ever been, whether it be Mycenaeans utilizing the Danube River, or your possibly drug-addled stockbroker gambling your retirement on the latest cryptocurrency.
Though the exchange of humans themselves largely, mercifully went out of fashion over the past two centuries, it remains a compelling means of business in the public arena of professional sports. We watch the games for a variety of reasons, but in the age of social media, reaction has become nearly as important as action. A team wins, and another loses. The former has to maintain its formula, while the latter has to figure out an antidote.
For the Oklahoma City Thunder, Russell Westbrook’s MVP campaign was the coldest consolation prize for the first season since moving from Seattle spent without Kevin Durant. To paraphrase ESPN staff writer Royce Young, as eye-poppingly ostentatious as it was, for the Thunder to succeed with him, Westbrook’s 2016-’17 season can never happen again. The Monolith needed help, and on Tuesday, that help officially arrived.
Courtesy of NBA.com
Since their move from New Jersey in the summer of 2012, the current Brooklyn Nets franchise has had a grand total of two (2) NBA All-Stars. The most recent is the ageless, egoless, nearly-anonymous Joe Johnson, fresh off eviscerating unsuspecting foes with his iso-heavy wizardry and shooting among the best percentages of his career in both the regular season and playoffs with the Utah Jazz.
The other is a twin with a noted fondness for everything Disney and cats. He toiled for several years with a team that squeaked into the playoffs in 2015 before descending into what is essentially indentured servitude to the Boston Celtics, a lottery-bound squad without recourse that has racked up a grand total of 41 wins over the past two seasons. Following a pre-draft trade with the Los Angeles Lakers, perhaps, finally, Brook Lopez will be able to find peace.
Since October 25th, when the NBA season began, a few things have changed. Some are minute; perhaps you switched from white wine to red, took up yoga or bought a new pair of dress shoes that you’ll save for just the proper occasion. Others, less so, but you can read about that in the oblique, unchecked vacuum that convinced you the world was one way when, in fact, it’s the other, at least to a large enough plurality for that to matter.
Much of what we presumed to be true is shaken, even stirred, while the rest is magnified to such an extent as to be distorted beyond reasonable comprehension. What we face now, in basketball as in life, is adjustment to the new normal.
Since he announced his retirement, effective at the end of this season, Kobe Bryant has played more like the Kobe of old than the broken shadow he has become. The “Kobe of old” here is the Bean, the player who came off the bench and won a Slam Dunk contest before ever winning a championship. In those days, through 2006 in fact, Kobe sported the number 8.
Since undertaking his own re-branding a decade ago, he has worn the number 24. Like any decent American sporting organization – because this is how we choose to honor our favorite athletes in this country, for better and for worse – the Los Angeles Lakers will eventually hold a jersey retirement ceremony for Kobe. What number they will retire, however, has sparked debate, with Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak saying it could even be both 8 and 24. Plenty of teams have retired the same number for two different players, and plenty of players have had their number retired by multiple teams, but if Kobe has both of his numbers retired by the Lakers, that may set a new precedent.
The question is, if Kobe Bryant is the Greatest Laker Ever™, why stop at just the two numbers he actually wore?
Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes
of the earth will wail.
We knew this was coming. It was written, and now it shall be done. The general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers, Mitch Kupchak, predicted this a year ago. With a quasi-poem in the Players’ Tribune, Kobe Bean Bryant, arguably the most intense and focused human being ever to walk this planet, let alone play this sport, announced his retirement from the NBA, effective at the conclusion of this season. In light of his throwback, 31-point performance, including a game-sealing shot, let’s take a moment to celebrate one of the greatest, and most divisive, players ever.
Wake up, dust off your finest Jordans, throw on a pair of sunglasses and tell the world to deal with it, because the NBA is finally back on your television tonight. Three games featuring five playoff teams from a year ago, including the defending champion Golden State Warriors, return us to the hardwood. So much has transpired this offseason, it can be easy to get caught up in it. Such is life in the 24/7/365 NBA, if you allow it to be.
We can only say and think so much about basketball, however, without there being any games. Before the first tip-off of the season (Cavs/Bulls or, if you prefer, Hawks/Pistons, tonight at 8 pm), let’s spare a thought – not necessarily a prediction, though there will be more than a fair share of those – to each franchise, in alphabetical order. Some of them may be painfully obvious or extremely misguided, because I guess I don’t think about the Minnesota Timberwolves nearly enough. Anyway, best of luck to the following teams, especially the Knicks. Those dudes are gonna need it.