Some people find symmetry comforting, while others consider it downright terrifying. Either way, what gets them going is evidence of a master plan that could be either the sweet guiding palm of the Great Designer, proof positive that all your free will has been in vain, or simply some of Fate’s likes and dislikes. I usually like to brush these off as coincidence or predictable repetition, but it’s hard to find that within you when, several hundred thousand feet above sea level, the television has told you in rapid succession about two of the most affecting deaths of this great century. I pour out, I know how it must be.
But I come to you this morning not to speak of the paunch that becometh dust, or the occult-like ocean of change that swept over NYC rap writers this weekend (Clipse show was unmemorable, Crunchy Black’s Oscar means a fuck of a lot more than Halle’s hand-out). I wish to, throughout this sunny time was share together, once again call out the Association’s general managers for their unshakable belief in what we might well term The Eternal Recurrence of the Detroit Pistons.
This trade season was a fizzler partly because, as many have noted, major stars generally switch up their zips over the summer, and teams chasing them will hold on to their chips in hopes of making that grappling off-season play (or, in Zeke’s case, are somehow accomplishing both at once). With all the chatter across the wire these days about All-Stars on the block—Iverson, Garnett, Pierce, Ray Allen, and Jermaine O’Neal are all rumoured to have tags around their necks, in case you didn’t know—it would seem that moving out your franchise player for God knows what is an acceptable, if not productive, course for a organization lacking directional impetus.
When I swear till the end that this is a league of stars, it’s not just because I like it that way. By far the easiest way to construct a basketball team is to acquire one marquee player, then build around him to both suit his strengths and complement his weaknesses or limitations. Granted, the four perennial All-Stars listed above have their flaws, but none of are ripe for a Francis or Marbury-like demotion to among the flocks. As in, you could hardly ask for a more solid cornerstone to a roster than any of these masterful performers. It’s far more improbable to come up with a truthful star in this league than to not, so the men in charge should hold on to what they’ve got. And if someone realizes that they’ve misinterpreted their storefront figure, or the player’s changed their approach, then tinker with the supporting cast. They may be more of them to deal with, but damn sun, they’re so much more disposable.
Swapping one centerpiece for another only makes sense if the supporting cast is beyond impeccable, and has taken on a life of its own that simply demands a different focus. The body has rebelled from the outside in, as in the rare case of the genital change that compels a person to switch genders (THIS NEVER HAPPENS). You’ll also rarely catch the oft-theorized “star for high lottery pick” deals go down, since an All-Star getting dangled is, in the fair-weather mindset of the NBA, an All-Star compromised, and the draft pick still has the chance to be perfect. If you’re planning to tank and pray on the lottery, spring’s the time to do it—once those picks sit high, it’s hard to prey them away. The Elton Brand trade was the most recent example of this, and it took a nearly four years for the Bulls to honor their folly.
But why, then, do GM’s insist on pursuing the nuclear option? As with many of the bodily functions we call NBA 2005-2006, I have to lay the blame squarely at the feet of your Detroit Pistons. Ever since the Pistons, and to a lesser degree the Spurs, the constantly embattled Pace Show, and this year’s rag-tag Suns, took the helm of modern basketball success-hood, stars have begun to seem less and less essential to the running of shit. You should hardly need me to explain that this is the case, but it has had a perplexing effect on the way GM’s do business. I am of the central belief that, from this day on, general managers truly believe that simply expecting multiple players to carry an evenly-distributed load will birth them their very own Pistons. I return to the unthinkable scenario in which two teams swap stars based on the looks of majestic supporting casts—it would never happen, because teams are now convinced that a little mutiny is just what they’re trying foment.
The Pistons may represent the triumph of the working stiff and his metallurgical chemistry amongst him and his traveling bunch, but it’s not something that occurs naturally in water once the star is extinguished. I would like to stand on liquid and remind you that Dumars, Bird/Walsh, whoever thinks between Pops’ institutional jaws, and that Italian dude who won exec of the year last season are easily the cream of the league’s GM crop. As in, it’s far more difficult to put together a team in which a bunch of highly-specialized role players or versatile pilgrims learn to rule on their own (the American experiment: Nash=Jefferson, Duncan=Washington) than for the mighty to reign. It’s no breeze to do this, especially because it involves far more scouting, guesswork, and utter imagination than asking career pluggers to keep plugging away at what they plug best.
(Barely related interlude: Brickowski brought to my attention last week that J.R. Smith nearly got shipped off to the Spurs. For the sake for my self-esteem, we can refrain from thinking about the moth-shaped rupture this might have produced in Cosmos Le Shoals. But I have been thinking. . . how weird is that the Smith was, just out of high school, well on his way to becoming a starting shooting guard for years in this league, maybe even a special one. And now, he’ll have to fight his way back to the top of some team’s rotation to even get starters’ minutes. I still have faith that he’ll amount to something, but I don’t expect to see him get the voluminous space to create he so lurchingly deserves for at least another three to four years.)
This isn’t just another lash upon the Pistons’ noble hide, though. Why I am once again taking aim at the general managers is not only because of their fantasy of conjuring up the Pistons by turning the other way. Rather, what this world needs is GM’s to find their own identity, much as the Pistons, Spurs, Suns, and Pistons have. While many, including myself, have divined in these relatively egalitarian franchises the death of style, the absence of identity, or an almost mystically non-descript approach to allowing team flourishment, today I see otherwise. I speak to those who would move their stars, and say unto them thusly: you are someone, you have a team to be just as the Pistons were able to become themselves. And it lies, undoubtedly, within the heart of your star’s identity. It won’t always be easy, but it can’t be more difficult than building a less conspicuously formulaic team. Remember, Iverson might be hard to match players with, but it hardly helps that he’s had Larry Brown and/or Billy King, two climactically bad executives, handing him teammates for most of his career. The same goes for Ainge’s adventures, or anything McHale did besides sign Cassell.
Perhaps I’m wrong about what’s in their minds, and these GM’s are fully aware of what a difficult task they’re setting forth for themselves. In that case, they need to let of their egos and accept what good tidings lay in shambles before them, repairing them to their natural state. I deeply suspect, though, that it is true that the Pistons are seen as a solution, not a challenge, and that to mistake life’s labors for its spoils is to risk losing the giant eel that holds the planet in its mouth.