Saturday, August 18, 2012

NBA Musical Chairs

This article is dedicated to Jonathan Abebe, who absolutely loves the L.A. Lakers.

The NBA has free agency.  The MLB, NFL, and NHL also have free agency, but none of these sports has had such an active free agency period as the NBA has in 2012.  It used to be a league in which the addition of one player could turn a team into an instant contender for the NBA title.  Now we have teams in which several of the best players in the league would sign with one team.  This would create several super teams and many teams depleted of their star players.  This is not only due to pure free agency, but due to players demanding to be traded before they become free agents.  If a team is about to lose its captain, it would be better for that team to get something in compensation for the loss of the player.

Whether you love him or hate him, this is Lebron James’ NBA.  Two years ago, Lebron James and Chris Bosh decided to join Dwayne Wade with the Miami Heat to form a super team.  Lebron James announced his decision to sign with the Miami Heat on an ESPN special called The Decision.  By leaving the Cavaliers in such a public way, it was extra painful to the fans of his former team.  This would have probably been less painful had he informed the team a few weeks earlier.  That way, the audience would have just learned which “new” team he would sign with.  Cleveland Cavalier fans were watching The Decision while hoping that he would resign with their team.  Giving his fans hope only made it worse when they learned he would be leaving their team.

In the two years since Lebron James left the Cavaliers for the Heat, his new team went to the NBA Finals twice.  They lost the championship in the first year and won it in the second year.  As much as people may be upset with Lebron James for leaving the Cavaliers, his decision to create a super team with three great players actually did pay off for him.  As vilified as he has been over the last two years, he has an NBA Championship.

The Miami Heat, with three star players, will probably be even better in the upcoming year.  They signed a fourth star… Boston Celtics’ Ray Allen.

This year, one of the most high-profile free agents decided to go for the best contract available instead choosing one of the best teams to win a championship.  New York Knicks’ fans fell in love with Jeremy Lin.  He signed with the Houston Rockets because they offered him the most money.  I think that he was hoping that the Knicks would match the Rockets’ offer (Lin was not an unrestricted free agent), but the Knicks decided to let him leave the team.  Jeremy Lin will earn over $25 million in the next three years, so even if he does not have the same success that he had in his breakout 2012 season, he will be financially set for life.

The biggest winning team in the 2012 NBA musical chairs has to be the L.A. Lakers.  They landed two of the best players of the last decade.  Through trades, they landed Dwight Howard and Steve Nash.  The addition of these two amazing players will make the L.A. Lakers one of the top contenders for an NBA Championship in 2013.   While neither the Magic nor the Suns wanted to lose their star players, these players were given up for compensation instead of their teams losing them to pure free agency.  Dwight Howard had been seeking a trade and would have left the Orlando Magic as a pure free agent if he was not traded to a team that he would view as a contender.  The Magic did receive compensation for him, but had they forced him to play for their team in this upcoming year, they would have received no compensation next year since he would become an unrestricted free agent.

The case of Steve Nash leaving the Phoenix Suns was one of the more positive bright spots that I have seen in recent years.  Steve Nash was an unrestricted free agent.  He could have just signed with the Lakers and the Suns would have received no compensation.  But he did not want to leave his former team on bad terms.  He planned a sign/trade deal in which he would resign with the team and then be immediately traded to the Lakers.  This way, the Lakers got Steve Nash, the Steve was able to switch teams to a contender, and no bridges were burned with the Phoenix Suns.

I think that the Suns fans will forgive Steve Nash because he did not leave his team without compensation.  His number will probably be retired by the Suns.  But when a typical player switches teams, it will be harder for him to look at a team as his home.  Dwight Howard spent eight seasons with the Orlando Magic, but won’t be remembered by their fans fondly since he demanded to be traded by the team.  If he does not have a great career with the Lakers, he may not get his number retired by the team.  That brings up one additional player…  Shaquille O’Neal.  Just like Dwight Howard, Shaq left the Orlando Magic for the Lakers.  After winning three championships, he played for several different teams.  He also won a championship with the Miami Heat.  He is having his #34 retired by the Lakers.  If Dwight Howard wants to be remembered as a Laker, he will have to have true success as a Laker.  That may mean that he would have to win multiple championships.

With the way things are going in the NBA, it may be possible for Dwight Howard on the Lakers to win many championships as well as for Lebron James on the Heat.  But for teams that have just lost their star players, is it even worth watching the team when you know it will be significantly worse in the upcoming season?  Does anyone thing that the Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics, or Phoenix Suns will have a chance of winning a championship next year?  I would hope that the fans could be hopeful.  Maybe one of those teams may have the next Jeremy Lin on the roster and the team will be even better than the previous year.  But the next Jeremy Lin may leave his team as well when he becomes a free agent.

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