Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Checking in on the NBA

Hey, Baltimore might not have a team but there are some big events going down in the NBA this first week of the season, and none might be bigger than the recent trade that went down yesterday...
When the Allen Iverson trade to Detroit went down for Chauncey Billups (and Antonio McDyess, though he will likely be heading back to Motown), I believe I was the only person in the country thinking that Detroit had just fell into a horrible trap that seems to be swallowing up every team in the East, starting with the Knicks and could be spreading.

Every team in NBA is aware that in 2010 a slew of high caliber players could be on the free agent market- LeBron James aside, there is still Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, Michael Redd and other superstars slated to get out onto the market. I understand this, and I understand that teams want to try to dump salary in preparation for trying to draw in one or more of these free agents, but do you want to sell out your seasons in the hopes of maybe getting one of these players?

The NBA is a league where the salary cap is only a guideline, where the Knicks seems to survive just fine every year living far into luxury tax territory. If your team really wants/needs a player it can find room to add him. Even with the salary these players will be commanding, a lot will change between now and then. Perhaps Cleveland wins a title and LeBron stays with the Cavs. Maybe Miami is just the right place for Dwayne and he signs for less to stay there. It could be that Atlanta will pony up the cash to build their team around Joe Johnson. The fact of the matter is that a million things could change between now and the 2010 offseason. We aren’t even in 2009 yet! If this was for the upcoming offseason I might be able to understand; if this was a throwaway season I could completely sympathize with teams just dumping players and trying to start over.

But this is about collecting superstars. Look, just because it worked in Boston doesn’t mean every team can be built from big name free agent signings. Teams traditionally have been successful when they add from within, turning role players into a cohesive unit that emphasizes unselfish play and strong defense. When you add a fantasy team to that, you get the Denver Nuggets.

That is why this Detroit deal puzzles me so much. Detroit has had a good thing going. Sure they haven’t won a title in the last few years, but they were in the conference finals last year and put away Orlando 4-1 in the conference semis. Chauncey Billups was their Mr. Big Shot and adding A.I. won’t do anything to add to their defense. If anything A.I. will make life difficult on Richard Hamilton who will likely be forced to the bench when Rodney Stuckey takes over as point guard and Iverson is moved to shooting guard. Do you want to put one of your best and most loyal players on the bench just because you wanted to dump some salary by signing an aging superstar for a year?

I have heard that this is part of the youth movement for Detroit, as it puts young and promising Rodney Stuckey into the starting lineup. However, this move didn’t add any youth to the team, it just forced the youth into a starting situation. Moreover, adding a 33 year old player to the team doesn’t do much for youth either, especially when they will be parting with him at the end of the season for… nothing but cap space. If you are willing to make Rip Hamilton ride the pine than they should have had Chauncey do the same and not made the trade for Allen Iverson.

I love the way Iverson plays but he has never been able to be a part of a team mentality, he has never distributed the ball well and played consistent defense. The Detroit Pistons, like the San Antonio Spurs in the West, are built around team chemistry and defensive tenacity. Throw Allen Iverson in there and the entire foundation for the team blows up. I am not saying they won’t be good, but they have now forfeited their chances to win the East this year and especially next year. If the Pistons wanted to toss out their next two seasons, they should have gotten more back than a “maybe” in 2010-2011.

Photo Credit: (AP Photo: Dave Zalubowski)

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