So after a 149-day lockout, let's just say I'm trying to convince the composite template of an NBA hater that the league isn't that bad. If they can get over the usual hockey-guy complaints about the sport itself, let's say they take a peek to see if anything has changed.
Then, like clockwork, the premier point guard in the game indicates he'd like to be traded from a small market to the New York Knicks, so he can team up with another superstar he happens to be good friends with (although Chris Paul, demonstrating slightly more tact with his current team than Carmelo Anthony did last year, apparently has come to realize since last week that the logistics of a deal between New Orleans and New York are unlikely... cue the Lakers with Dwight Howard rumours).
What's a critic to think?
Exactly. Nothing's changed.
If there's one thing the new collective bargaining agreement couldn't change, it was the fact that most of the top 15 players in the NBA would prefer to play in one of six cities -- oddly enough the largest TV markets in the U.S., and in Miami's case, a city that has been oozing a unique sexualized style since they shot Scarface and Miami Vice there in the '80s.
In Paul's defence, the Hornets are currently owned by the league, and that in no situation can be seen as a positive when it comes to deciding if you want to stay with the franchise. After all, think of other pro sports franchises owned by their respective leagues: The Montreal Expos and the Phoenix Coyotes. Paul's agent playing the marketplace is unsurprising.
However, this isn't just about Chris Paul's future and George Shinn's idiotic mismanagement of the Hornets franchise. Like anything, perception is reality, and this is the sort of thing that has had NBA fans disappearing over the past decade. The league, since it's renaissance in the early '80s, has always been about dynasty-like teams in big cities -- cities like Boston, L.A. and Chicago. But there have also been success stories in places like San Antonio, Utah and Portland. Twenty-five years ago, the Milwaukee Bucks were a consistent contender in the Eastern Conference, selling out a glorified high school gym called the Mecca every night.
Of course, the money is much different now.
And how does a city like Toronto -- one that is by no means a small market, but isn't a first-choice destination of NBA free agents either -- approach this? The truth is, the same way the Toronto Blue Jays approach team-building. While the economics are different and Major League Baseball has no salary cap, the sports have similar end results. The New Yorks and Bostons of the world add talent like fantasy squads, while the rest of the teams have to concoct a Moneyball-like scheme -- the art of winning an unfair game.
Now that's not to say the Raptors should go out and overpay Nene (it won't happen anyways) the way the Jays once did with A.J. Burnett. But it's going to take -- and for the most part, always has taken -- a creative approach. At least in this truncated season, with the Raps on course to be quite bad, no serious cash is likely to get thrown around -- even if it means Dwane Casey wanting to pull his hair out by Super Bowl weekend because the team's breathtaking defensive ineptitude. While Shane Battier would alleviate some of Casey's high blood pressure, would it really be wise at this point to sign him -- even if he honestly considered Toronto as an option? It's called rebuilding for a reason.
Yet for all the talk about owners wanting change and most NBA markets being at a competitive disadvantage, you know somebody will overpay somebody when free agency opens next week. And that's why it's impossible to feel bad for any owner, even if their team was in Boise, Idaho. Not that there's anything that can make you dislike Donald Sterling even more, but if he's forced -- essentially by default -- to overpay DeAndre Jordan, who can you blame? Same goes for whoever overpays Nene.
Only time will tell if the new CBA actually benefits the owners it is intended, at least on paper, to help. In the meantime, I'm still trying to figure out if the lockout accomplished anything.
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