Fans of non-contending teams, the group of which I have recently become a member, can enjoy the NBA season only by applying any number of folk suppositions that will somehow catapult their team into contention, or at very least will provide optimism for a future chance at contention. Many of these suppositions are time-tested and hold true—the “hire Phil Jackson” supposition, the “we’ll have a lot of cap room to spend on free agency” supposition, the “we’ll get a great lottery pick” supposition, the “maybe it’s time to trade Marbury” supposition—while others are mere illusions; illusions we create to engage ourselves in cliché rallying cries like ‘everything’s gonna be alright,’ ‘just wait till next year,’ and ‘we’re rebuilding!’ I turn now to examine four erroneous suppositions constructed from strong historical evidence. I argue that the historical evidence supporting these suppositions is anomolous and that hence any endorsement of them is erroneous.
1. The Jermaine O’Neal supposition (see Ndudi Ebi, Darko, Robert Swift, Kwame Brown)
What a better place to start than with our man Darko. A few months ago, when asked to describe the progress of the modern day Sam Bowie, Joe Dumars stated that Darko is on the exact pace they thought he would be and that he should have a similar progression to Jermaine O’Neal. What better way to justify your prematurely-birthed teenage 12th man then by pointing to the trajectory of Jermaine O’Neal (and to a lesser extent Kobe & KG). This example allows one to say, just like O’neal, in four years, once our guy goes from playing 12 minutes a game to 37, he will blossom into the third best player at his position. While Dickaus and Korvers (guys putting up numbers as a result of more PT) are popping up all over the league, I do not see another player following J.O.’s strange path.
2. The Sabonis supposition (see Andris Biedrins, Martynas Andriuskevicius) (also known as the Muresan supposition)
He wasn’t my Vydas, he wasn’t your Vydas, he was Our Vydas. One of the best and most versatile centers we saw during that liminal Dream-torch-passing-to-Shaq era, Arvydas Sabonis revolutionized the center position. “If he had only entered the league when he was younger,” we all cried. And in China, an 18-year-old Yao Ming used “Sabonis” as a screenname when talking hoops on internet message boards. Since Sabas’ time, many have been billed as “what Arvydas would have been at a younger age,” and none have fulfilled the prophecy. There’s lots of talk about his protégé, Andriuskevicius, but I just don’t see this one working out.
3. The “Shaq will screw us” supposition (see T-Mac, ‘Sheed)
Perhaps Shaq was not the one who originally defined this scenario, but since devastation of the Orlando Magic, teams have become increasingly paranoid towards franchise guys with a year or less on their contracts, trading them for whatever scraps they can gather. This does not make a team better, and teams are better off simply attempting to re-sign a max player for a max amount or (if he’s not a max player) letting him go. Despite the situation in Orlando looking brighter due to the trading of T-Mac for Stevie, I will attribute the Magic’s success more to their drafting of Dwight Howard, the addition of Turkoglu, and the return of Grant Hill.
4. The “One player away” supposition (in progress)
This one is based on the arrival of ‘Sheed in Detroit last February. Since then, I’ve been hearing whispers that every +500 non-contending team is just “one player away” from having a legit title shot. I strongly expect a team that is not the Spurs, Suns, Heat, or Sonics to make a boneheaded trade near the deadline, giving birth to this supposition.