Culture of Hoops

Crashing the NBA’s Summer Party

What is it that you are going to read today? 

You’re going to read about a whole bunch of different things that happened in the NBA during Free Agency, and before each of those things will be a quote from the 2005 hit Summer comedy Wedding Crashers that sets the table for what is to come.

Why did I decide to format it this particular way? 

For three reasons:

1: Today marks the one year wedding anniversary of my cousin Gianni and his beautiful wife Kayla. Happy Anniversary guys!

2: Eleven years ago Wednesday (July 13th) marks the date that Wedding Crashers was released nationwide.

3: Wedding Crashers is my all-time favorite comedy, and in my opinion, one of the most quotable movies ever made. So if I could use Wedding Crashers as inspiration for an NBA Free Agency write-up, and use an NBA Free Agency write-up as an excuse to watch Wedding Crashers yet again, I had to do it!

“Your brother. He’s down again.”
“What is his deal?” 

-To the New York Knicks, who are putting their faith in Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony and Joakim Noah, a trio that has collectively missed 167 of 492 possible games over the last three seasons. That’s troubling. You know what’s even more troubling? Derrick Rose has played more games over the last two seasons than either Carmelo Anthony or Joakim Noah have. Yikes! My knee ligaments are already hurting for these guys.

Here’s the thing though … I can’t sit here and lie to you and say that I’m not completely intrigued by what Phil Jackson has built. So what the Knicks didn’t get Durant, or really ever have a chance to get Durant. No reasonable Knicks fan ever bought into the notion that Durant was a possibility. If (big if) New York can get 200 combined games from Rose, Carmelo and Noah, and if Latvian sensation Kristaps Porzingis makes the oh-so-predictable leap from year one to year two then the Knicks are at least a Playoff team for the first time since 2013, and that’s a step in the right direction.

“True love is the soul’s recognition of its counterpoint in another.”
“It’s a little cheesy but I like it.”
“I read it on a bumper sticker.” 

-To Dwight Howard, who perhaps has finally found his basketball counterpoint in returning home to Atlanta. I tweeted it right away, but I absolutely cannot wait to watch the ironic/sarcastic Dwight Howard I’m Coming Home montages on YouTube that will feature a bunch of clips of Dwight emphatically blocking shots out of bounds, catching lobs, throwing Stan Van Gundy and Otis Smith under an oncoming bus in Orlando … all of that good stuff.

I love it all, and God bless Dwight for saying and doing all of the right things so far. This might seem like a small feat and possibly something that doesn’t even warrant a mention, but if you understand the history of Dwight Howard and how flip-floppy and frustrating he has been, this is a major accomplishment. He’s in the gym working on his free throw shooting. That’s great! He’s talking frequently about how he’s excited for a new start and to play for a new coach. That’s splendid! He’s saying he’s going to bring a championship home to Atlanta. That’s ambitious! For Dwight’s sake, I hope he’s talking about a Southeast Division championship.

“We lost so many good men out there.”
“Playing with the Yankees?”
“Yes, with the Yankees. You lose good men to trade and unruly fans. Look I don’t want to talk about it, I’m sorry.” 

-To the Golden State Warriors, who over the last week have parted ways with Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli, Leandro Barbosa and Marreese Speights. Those were five of the Warriors top ten guys last year, all of whom have essentially vanished into thin air and found themselves different homes on various Western Conference teams. But of course, the Warriors would gladly talk about the losses of all of these good men because their departures indirectly resulted in the acquisition of one great man.

The Warriors sacrificed depth, continuity, familiarity and international diversity to sign Kevin Durant, and it was a course of action that they would have been totally nutty not to make. It’s been only a week since Durant signed with the Dubs, and all of the narratives have been beaten into the ground already, but they’re worth repeating … the Warriors now employ two of the best three players in the NBA, four of the best twelve, and Durant’s fit into the Warriors offense should be seamless.

And again, this was a team that won 73 games last year and was only a couple of possessions away from winning their second consecutive NBA championship, and now in their acquisition of Durant the Warriors have not only added one of the best basketball players ever near the peak of his powers to their team, but also dispatched of their biggest Western Conference foe. On paper, the 2016-17 Warriors are the biggest juggernaut in NBA history.

“Rule #76: No excuses. Play like a champion!” 

-To the Warriors again, because they’ve put themselves in a position where there are no excuses next season. You don’t get to make excuses when you can say things like “On paper, the 2016-17 Warriors are the biggest juggernaut in NBA history.” You don’t get to make excuses when, if one of your two best players were removed from the equation entirely, you’d still be the odds on favorite to win the NBA Title.

And look, I’m not one to blame Durant for leaving Oklahoma City and going to a team that was already stacked. I’m not going to vilify the Warriors this year or any other year. It doesn’t matter how you morally feel about the Golden State Warriors; there are no excuses for this team. If the deck is stacked this much in your favor, you’ve got to be able to get 16 wins in the postseason. No excuses, win a damn championship.

“What are you going to do for an encore? Walk on water?” 

-To LeBron James, who turned water into wine during the 2016 NBA Finals, and is a 2017 Finals victory over the Golden State Warriors away from ending the Greatest of All Time conversation forever and always. I’m sorry, I’m usually a grey area kind of guy, but I’m not bending or compromising on this one. If LeBron delivers in the Finals next year and the Cavs beat the Warriors super-team yet again, I’ll be done arguing about LeBron’s GOAT status. It’s over. We’ll need to find a new discussion to have.

“Would you say you’re completely full of shit, or just fifty percent?”
“I hope just fifty but who knows.” 

-To Charles Barkley, who is closer to being completely full of shit than just fifty percent. Sir Charles pulled way worse shit during his NBA career than Kevin Durant did last week, and yet he has the nerve to do the whole holier than thou act when it comes to Durant leaving Oklahoma City to play for Golden State. Apparently Chuck has chosen to forget about how he forced his way out of Philadelphia in 1992 because he wanted to play on a team that had a chance to win a title. He apparently has also forgotten about how in 1996 he claimed that he would retire if the Phoenix Suns didn’t trade him to a title contender. That eventual contender ended up being the Houston Rockets, who overcame a 3-1 deficit in the postseason two seasons earlier against Barkley’s Suns en route to a second consecutive NBA Title. But yeah, go ahead Chuck, keep claiming players today are cheating the system and taking the easy way out. It’s a good look for ya.

“Looks like a little kid at Toys-R-Us. I can’t be around her.”
“Get off your high horse and stop judging people.” 

-To the collective basketball fan base that has lost their mind in regards to Durant’s move to Golden State and all of the money that was spent on Free Agents … just take a deep breath, try to realize that we’re just dealing with sports here, get off your high horse and calm the fuck down. Kevin Durant is a grown-ass man and he can decide to make a living wherever he damn well pleases. And none of cash that NBA players are making is coming out of your pockets, so why the hell do y’all care so much?

“Don’t make me out to be a saint just yet. We do turn a small profit. After all, someone has to pay for the lap dancers for the big guy here.

-To all of the guys who banked on enormous contracts this Summer, congratulations! Go get yourselves some lap dances! I’m in the camp that NBA players should be the highest paid athletes in the world, so I’m perfectly fine with rotation guys signing contracts for $50 million and stars getting $150 million. Before anyone has a stroke looking at the insane amount of money these guys are making, you need to remember that the cap has spiked to roughly double what it was ten years ago because of the recent TV deal. It was to be expected that everyone was going to be making more money this Summer (and it’s not just the players; it’s the owners too). We knew this was coming. And then all of the sudden when Timofey Mozgov signed a $64 million contract, everyone said, “Oh shit, that’s A LOT of money!” On second thought, the Mozgov example might not be the best one to cite here.

“Did you check out the rack on that bartender?”
“Hey, you’re the Sack. She’ll come to you.” 

-To the Lakers, who were once the Sack Lodge of Free Agency … big time free agents came to them, just like hot busty bartenders apparently came to Sack. Now the Lakers can’t even secure meetings with top-tier free agents anymore. They have to spend their money on fringe starting big men like Roy Hibbert and Timofey Mozgov. They have to bring in Luol Deng five years after his prime to be a veteran leader and a voice in the locker room, and to make sure D’Angelo Russell doesn’t bust any of his teammates for cheating on their girlfriends again. This is like if hot girls stopped throwing themselves at Sack so he had to start using hokey gimmicks out at bars, but he could only land grenades and girls who were ten years past their peak attractiveness. Shit, someone get New Line Cinema on the phone. This is a great idea for a Wedding Crashers sequel.

“Bunch those panties up into a little ball, and put that little ball right in your mouth. Oh yeah … and, um, yeah. I will definitely call you back later then. I’ll talk to you soon. Thank you, Larry.” 

-To Larry Bird, who in just two short years has overhauled the Indiana Pacers and distanced himself from the big-ball behemoth that nearly toppled the Miami Heat in three consecutive postseasons in favor of a deeper and more versatile squad that, on paper, should be one of the three or four best teams in the Eastern Conference next year. Indiana traded George Hill to Utah and let Solomon Hill walk in Free Agency, and in return they brought in Thaddeus Young, Jeff Teague and Al Jefferson, a de facto swap that represents a huge upgrade to a team that came close to toppling the second-seeded Toronto Raptors in the 1st Round of the Playoffs last year.

And this brings us to a point in this column where the state of the NBA needs to be addressed. The way I see it, there will be five tiers of NBA teams next year.

Lottery Teams

Potential Playoff Teams

Definite Playoff Teams

Title Contenders

The Undisputed Odds on Favorite

In most NBA seasons there are only four tiers. Typically the breakdown goes something like this: There are five or six Title Contenders, six or seven Definite Playoff Teams, nine or ten Potential Playoff Teams and seven or eight Lottery Teams. This season is different though; because the Golden State Warriors are the Undisputed Odds on Favorite to win the NBA Title, the number of teams in the Title Contenders pool has decreased, and the number of teams occupying the Definite and Potential Playoff Teams pools has increased.

This is where I circle back to the Indiana Pacers. There was a time not too long ago where if a franchise wasn’t a Title Contender then there was a sense that they needed to re-evaluate the direction that things were headed. Now, with that group much smaller than it has been the past few years, teams can really only shoot to be considered a Definite Playoff Team if they aren’t the beneficiaries of insane luck in the NBA Draft or Free Agency. The Pacers haven’t had either in the last five years, but Larry Bird has still been able to craft a roster that is definitely a Playoff team (so I think). In today’s NBA landscape that’s perfectly fine.

“Well … you’re not that young.” 

-To Chicago Bulls General Manager Gar Forman, who claimed that the Bulls wanted to get younger and more athletic in Free Agency. Math isn’t my strong suit, but I do know that 64 is greater than 63, and those are the combined ages of Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo, and Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol respectively. They certainly didn’t get younger, whether they got more athletic is debatable. I don’t know, man. I get that the Dwyane Wade homecoming to Chicago is cool and all, and it’s another opportunity for cheesy “I’m Coming Home” YouTube montages, which I thoroughly enjoy. I’m just awfully confused by how bringing in a point guard who can’t shoot three’s and needs the ball in his hands, as well as a shooting guard who can’t shoot three’s and needs the ball in his hands, helps a team whose best player is a wing that can’t shoot three’s and needs the ball in his hands.

I’m not a GM or anything (though, I’d love to be one, so uh, if anyone can put in a good word for me with anyone who could make some progress towards that, it would be much appreciated and I’ll owe ya one), but I have to believe that unless you are dealing with otherworldly talents, as was the case in Oklahoma City with Durant and Russell Westbrook, you ideally want guys whose skills don’t overlap. This isn’t the case in Chicago. The Bulls won’t be able to shoot from the perimeter and other than Jimmy Butler they don’t have a All-Defensive Team caliber defender on the roster. I just see this ending badly. Sorry Wes.

“Love doesn’t exist, that’s what I’m trying to tell you guys. And I’m not picking on love, cause I don’t think friendship exists either.” 

-To LeBron and Dwyane Wade, best buddies who I briefly thought would be reuniting in Cleveland. For about 12 hours I allowed myself to get excited about it. It didn’t happen, and I’m inclined to believe that it didn’t happen mainly because Cleveland couldn’t offer Wade more money per year than Orlando decided to pay DJ Augustin (while we’re here, what the fuck was Orlando doing this offseason?). If the Cavs had the room to pay Wade even close to what he’s getting in Chicago I’m certain two thirds of the Heatles would be reunited in The Land next season, and I would once again be in the position where I had to pretend I’ve always loved Dwyane Wade.

“Oh, you’re gonna cover me.”
“Like white on rice.”
“Alright, I like my odds here. Let me give you a little warning, I’m going downtown.” 

-To the Houston Rockets, who compounded the hire of Head Coach Mike D’Antoni by signing Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, two guys who don’t play a Tootsie Pop lick of defense and might not be able to give you 100 combined games. Great job with those two savvy signings right there. I absolutely cannot wait to watch the Rockets play this year. Somebody is gonna score 150 points against them next season. I know it.

“We’re a folk singing group from Salt Lake City.” 

-To the Utah Jazz, who are going to be the official Holy Shit, When Did They Get Good Team this season for casual basketball fans who forgot that they traded for George Hill and Boris Diaw, and got Joe Johnson on a good deal. Everyone has already sniffed out the Timberwolves as a 2016-17 sleeper. The Jazz are right there with them, and with that said, the Northwest Division is completely wide open next year. I couldn’t tell you if Oklahoma City, Portland, Utah or Minnesota will end up winning that division. Give me a couple more months to make up my mind.

“What is she doing back there? I never know what she’s doing.” 

-To Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics, who still have one big move to make … I just don’t know where or when or how it’s coming. All we know is they have assets and Danny Ainge will be aggressive in pursuit of bettering the Celts title chances, in both the short and long term. I was going to dial up ESPN’s NBA Trade Machine, but every deal for a superstar would look similar. The Celts would have to give up some combination of Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson, Brooklyn’s 2017 1st Round Pick or Brooklyn’s 2018 1st Round Pick.

So here are the things I’m wondering about:

If Chicago gets off to a rocky start and Jimmy Butler voices his frustrations, would the Celts be able to get Butler for Bradley, Crowder and Brooklyn’s 2018 pick?

Would the Celtics even pursue a trade for DeMarcus Cousins now that they’ve signed Al Horford?

Speaking of Al Horford, is a reunion with his former Hawks teammate Paul Millsap be a possibility? Could the Celtics steal Millsap for Bradley, Johnson and the 2018 1st Rounder?

If things don’t go smoothly at the start of next season would the Cavaliers consider panic-trading Kevin Love? Could they even pry one of those Brooklyn picks for him at this point?

Would the Celts put a package together for Russell Westbrook if he weren’t willing to agree to sign an extension? Would the Thunder even trade Russ for Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Jonas Jerebko‘s expiring contract and both of the Brooklyn picks?

That last one … there’s something to this one.

“It’s like trying to cover a fucking race horse.” 

-To Russell Westbrook, who is going to play like a God damn maniac now that he’s running solo in Oklahoma City (for now). It’s going to be like unleashing a pterodactyl into the NBA. I’m so excited.

Remember when Westbrook was running the show without Kevin Durant at the end of the 2014-15 season? I couldn’t care less that OKC wasn’t winning games … Westbrook was the single most entertaining and memorable player during that season; more so than Stephen Curry, more so than James Harden, more so than Anthony Davis. Westbrook averaged 31-9-10 post All-Star break and he was playing like his life and the life of every one of his family members was on the line. He played with a fucking dent in the side of his head.

Oklahoma City is better suited to succeed without Durant this year than they were two seasons ago. Westbrook is saddled with a better coach and a better supporting cast, and Westbrook is a better point guard than he was two years ago. Oklahoma City should make the Playoffs; they may be the 4th best team in the Western Conference. But they aren’t a title contender, and Westbrook’s impending free agency throws a major wrench in any plans that they could consider making.

Westbrook’s insistence that he’ll enter free agency next year will scare a lot of teams away from throwing the kitchen sink at the Thunder. If Oklahoma City doesn’t move Westbrook they could very well end up getting burned just like they with Kevin Durant. The alternative hardly presents a better outlook; the Thunder could start to field lowball offers and eventually settle on trading Westbrook for three quarters of what he’s worth, just so they don’t lose him for nothing.

There is a third option: remind Russell Westbrook that Kevin Durant broke the number one rule of wedding crashing … Never leave a fellow crasher behind. OKC can try to appeal to the competitor in Westbrook, hand the keys over to him with no hesitation, and watch him go out there and shoot 28 times a game and play frightening pterodactyl basketball night after night. Let him run roughshod over the league next season and pray to God you can appeal to one big name free agent next summer to create another duo. Even if you can’t, and even if you lose Westbrook next summer, the consolation prize is knowing that you’re giving your fans one more season with the most fearless, maniacally competitive freak of a player in the NBA today.

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