A few thoughts from recent sports occurrences…
I see that Sam Cassell turned in another Big Testicle Classic tonight, logging 2 minutes and shooting 0-for-0, with one turnover. This brings my mind to one of my pet peeves, the star player who, having played a long, statistics-filled career, and having pretty much lost the qualities that made them a one-time star player, signs a veteran minimum contract with an already-loaded team, in hopes of having their sorry carcass drug to one more (or, in some cases, one first) championship. Generally, that player fails to make any contribution to the team (although there are of course exceptions, such as Ray Bourque with the Avalanche), and more often than not, fails to win a title at all.
Cassell is a particularly detestable example of the phenomenon, as he actually went out of his way to make himself so unpleasant to the team he started the year under contract with, the L.A. Clippers, that they cut him at midseason, leaving him able to sign with whatever team he felt like. Although I’m too lazy to find the link, back in September or October, before the season even started, Bill Simmons was speculating about how nice it would be to get Cassell at midseason, after he tanked his way off the Clippers’ roster.
This reminds me of something I heard on the radio yesterday, which I had to take note with. Colin Cowherd, on ESPN Radio, was waxing rhapsodic about Lakers coach Phil Jackson. Cowherd stated that it was not possible to find a player who did not play their best ball under the Roundball Guru. Ummm, Colin, ever heard of a little man named Karl Malone? For those who don’t remember, after John Stockton retired, Malone vacated Salt Lake and signed on with the Kobe/Shaq Lakers in ’03, chasing that ring that had eluded him for so long. As I was a lifelong Karl Malone hater, that team’s eventual sweep in the NBA Finals at the hands of the Larry Brown-coached Pistons brought me great joy.
Anyhow, this phenomenon is in distinct contrast with the veteran who takes a hometown discount in order to stay with a team he has had success with, so that they can continue to surround him with great talent and keep winning. Obvious recent examples include Tom Brady of the Patriots and Mike Lowell of the Red Sox. Actually, Brady’s a bit of a red herring example, as, if I recall correctly, he will end up making about as much money in compensation over the life of his career as Peyton Manning, only Brady’s contract involves the actual numbers of his salary, whereas Manning’s, like that of nearly every NFL player, is sheer fiction after you got through the guaranteed money period – he has long since renegotiated the unguaranteed years to a more reasonable salary structure. Regardless, Lowell absolutely accepted less money in the offseason than he could have gotten, probably from the Sox and certainly from other teams, because he liked Boston and wanted to stay there, and help the team stay competitive. It’s the kind of thing that convinces you that, at least for some pro players, it really isn’t all about the Benjamins. That sort of behavior, though rare, is to be lauded.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the NBA Universe, the Lakers moved a step closer to their next title yesterday, beating the Spurs under somewhat controversial circumstances to go up 3-1 in their series. I expect the series to end Thursday night in L.A. Counting the Spurs out is not exactly good statistics; on the other hand, it is an even-numbered year, which reduces their franchise historical odds of winning the championship from 4-out-of-5 (rate in odd years out of the last 10) to 0-out-of-a bunch.
And it’s deserved. The Lakers are younger, more athletic, and more skilled, 8 men deep, than the Spurs. They also have the best single player in the series in Kobe Bryant, one of the most transcendent players ever to lace ’em up, who is at the peak of his powers right now. Much like ‘Second Threepeat’ Jordan, Bryant now has the ability to control a game with his scoring, his defense, or his passing. Watching him harass poor Jose Calderon into (approximately) 1.5 billion turnovers in the U.S./Puerto Rico game in the Olympic qualifying tournament last summer was downright impressive. If Bryant goes on to match Jordan’s 6 titles, winning 3 more with this supporting cast, he deserves to be included in the ‘best ever’ conversation.
However, lost in this adulation is the fact that the Lakers ought to be struggling to make all this work, still relying on Lamar Odom to be the second leading scorer, and praying for any contribution whatsoever out of Kwame Brown. Instead, they committed highway robbery by getting Pau Gasol, a legitimately very-good, if not great, center, from the Grizzlies, in return for the ultimate in Poo-Poo Platters, the shambling corpses of Brown, Aaron McKie, a rookie prospect in Jarvis Crittendon, some cash, the draft rights to Gasol’s younger and lesser brother, Marc, and two first-round draft picks. There were arguments made that the Griz got what they wanted, clearing cap space and landing prospects and draft picks. By using the plural term ‘prospects’, presumably they are counting 36-year-old McKie as a prospect, since the only way ‘prospect’ ought to be attached to Kwame Brown is in the phrase ‘prospectively the biggest bust draft pick in the history of the NBA’.
My favorite part of the deal is the protection on the picks. The Grizzlies get the Lakers’ first-rounder in 2008, unless that pick were to fall in the top 3. Since, instead, the Lakers finished with the third-best record in the Association, the Griz will be restocking the pond with the 27th-best player to go pro this year.
Anyhow, my point is just that, presuming the Lakers do go on to win it all, it ought to just be pointed out that this team had no business being put together in the first place. I’m not a NBA conspiracy buff, but I find it very hard to believe that one of the other contending teams looking to make a move at the trading deadline couldn’t have put together a more competitive offer. It’s very suspicious, that’s all I’m going to say…