I’m glad this week is done. Punctuated of course, by a comfortable victory over the Bobcats which continued to further the growing dichotomy of blowout victories and deflating close losses for the Minnesota Timberwolves. The past week covered most of the big problems an NBA team can face: Losing, locker room unrest and star players wanting out, the only bright spark being Shabazz Muhammad becoming the Tracy McGrady of the D-league. As upsetting it was to watch it unfold, little of it is worth overreacting to. Teammates arguing and fighting is always a great story but realistically it happens in every franchise, persistent reports would suggest a problem, one shaky interview followed by a blowout win? Doesn’t seem as sinister anymore.
Most fans, accepting the reality of the NBA, felt that Love would be gone as soon as he opts out of his contract so he could move to greener pastures situated in a big market and a winning team. So interestingly the discussion has quickly moved on from whether he will stay or go to what can be gotten for him and what could be considered genuine value given the conditions.
But I don’t think we should be there just yet, I get the need to always have an eye for the future. It always looks nicer than the present, but it’s not necessary with 18 months left until this scenario plays out, especially for a .500 team that hasn’t made the postseason in a decade. Three games back from the playoffs with an agonizing close game record screaming for improvement towards the mean, this is not the time to worry about 2015 free agency.
Simply put, Love probably wants to go. Go home, go to a winning team or a big city. He’ll have suitors, endorsements and fans where ever he goes. You really can’t blame him for moving on. By then, we’ll be left with a very different looking roster. Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin will be here with two years left on their contracts, Ricky Rubio will probably be in the first year of the extension he’ll likely receive and Chase Budinger has a $5 million player option. Aside from that, Muhammad and Dieng will probably be picked up on the final years of their rookie deals and we have half a roster. Don’t expect the playoffs with that core just yet.
The problem though is not getting worse. Being bad is something everyone faces, even the indomitable Lakers and the famous Celtics are facing it now. Life is cyclical, but in the NBA it moves so fast you can’t even enjoy the present as you worry for the future. You lose, you draft young players and the bad ones remain with some of the good ones and the truly excellent move to the Los Angeles or Boston. Life’s relatively tough if you happen to support a small market NBA team.
With every lottery pick that works out (not exactly a great percentage anyway) you know you’re living off borrowed time. The difference between the NBA and other sports though is the safe knowledge that if you get a true star you can lock him down for the max extension after the rookie deal. So in the current system you can bank on 8 years, unless of course David Kahn is general manager of said team, in which case anything goes. With every defecting superstar, you appreciate the qualities of Kevin Garnett, the rare superstar who stayed out in the cold, trying to bring the success to him.
In these cases I always feel the issue isn’t the player no longer being on the team, it’s the 18-month crawl towards free agency where 15 different sources each day tell us new inside information. Teams dole out the company line whilst players try and hide the inevitable grimace that comes with working in one place whilst our ambitions lie elsewhere. The poor coaches seem in the middle of it all, unless they somehow rally the spirit of Stan Van Gundy.
There’s something so slow and morbid about the protracted wait for a star player to leave his drafted team. It felt like it took Howard about 5 years to leave Orlando and the same could be said about Carmelo Anthony in Denver.
With the coverage and the hype that every journalist/blogger/fan provides it’s impossible not to be aware and thinking of these situations 18 months before they happen. Now that’s a huge problem, because when the media and the fans start asking questions the player has to provide an answers. It’s difficult to lie and any non committal statement doesn’t fair well with the home fanbase.
The truth is, we brought it upon ourselves. I don’t mean the Minnesota Timberwolves, I mean sports fandom in general. Whenever the onus is placed about victory – cold, indiscriminate winning – the efforts of great contributors on losing teams become overlooked. It seems so reasonable, so easy to point at a box score jump to conclusions, that few seem to care about the greater totality of the game.
Context is so uninteresting it seems in major sports. Cultures and environments make way for transcendent talent and when talent appears to be merely excellent without transcendence, we’re quick to swoop in. The words ‘superstar’ and ‘elite’ have become a movable part of sports jargon that mean whatever we want them to mean, depending on who’s asking and who we support. The words (and mine or yours understanding of them) are not that relevant, just as the team’s win-loss record is not that relevant in discussing Kevin Love’s merits.
Yet still, this isn’t about how good he is. If he wasn’t excellent there wouldn’t be a report 18 months before he hits free agency that he was bolting to Los Angeles. We know he’s good and we know he’s valued. The most important thing to take from these reports, is to remind ourselves as fans what we want to be. Do we want to criticise endlessly when a player wants to move back to his hometown and be judged in a favourably light? Or is it fairer to appreciate him while he’s here and continue supporting the whole team in the meantime?
I hope Kevin Love stays, I really, really do. However, what I hope even more is that the next season and a half isn’t ruined by endless speculation instead of focusing entirely on the main prize of winning games and making the playoffs.
Don’t worry yet about what our team will look like in two years time. Dwight Howard, Carmelo and LeBron all gave their teams eight excellent seasons of play and now they’re gone nobody is sitting around crying. The Magic have a talented young roster with further lottery picks to come, the Cavs have have a new superstar to fill LeBron James’ void and Denver just finished last season with a franchise-best 57 wins. NBA life will go on, so let’s not let some differences of opinion obstruct our enjoyment of one of the franchise’s great players.