The Inbounds: Dwight Howard and the NBA’s arms race gone too far

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“Weapons are like money, no one knows the meaning of enough.”

– Martin Amis

In 2008, it was the Celtics getting both an aging Kevin Garnett and an aging Ray Allen. Then it was the Lakers getting Pau Gasol, commonly a sub-star due to his market at the time. Then came The Decision, Melodrama, the Joe Johnson trade, Deron’s choice, and Steve Nash becoming a Laker.

And now, this. Dwight Howard will be a Laker. The Lakers will start Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, and Dwight Howard.

This arms race has gone too far.

Maybe it was always too far. Maybe the Decision really was the worst thing that could ever have happened to the sport, maybe it was the Celtics that started all this and it was unavoidable thereafter. Maybe it was New York’s opulence and brazen assault on the cap that lead to this. But either way, here we are. It was always going to be like this, from the moment Howard made his list of teams he wanted to play for, following Carmelo Anthony’s model of electing where he wanted and then maneuvering to get it. He was going to go to a big-market team with talent.

But this much talent?

The Heat have the best player in the game, a Hall of Fame shooting guard, and a hyper-versatile power forward. That’s an amazing team in its own right. But it has weaknesses. It relies on role players. The Lakers, even without a great bench, have a Hall of Fame point guard whose passing skills are bested by no one, the second-best shooting guard of all time, the best center in the league, and a hyper-versatile power forward. Who’s also seven feet tall.

The city of Los Angeles now features two teams with the following players on roster: Steve Nash, Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Blake Griffin, and Chauncey Billups. This is out of control.

The rest of the league can’t compete with this superstar accumulation, but then, we’re really just talking degrees, aren’t we? There have really only been about five teams in title contention each year. But the differential is so much greater now. Since 2008, the following players have moved to the small selection of cities: Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen (twice), Pau Gasol, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Steve Nash, and Dwight Howard. That’s an absolutely insane amount of star power to shift towards a handful of cities.

What may be even more stunning is that this was Howard’s second choice. He wanted the Brooklyn Nets, and had to settle for the Los Angeles Lakers. But it doesn’t change the trend. And while the Hornets have done a masterful job at rebuilding, the league is still divided into haves and have-nots.

And this may be too much.

It’s not even the on-court results. We expected mind-blowing things from the Heat, and they were only very good their first season together, and great their second. The Lakers have a lot of miles and years on the bones, and will have severe problems with any injuries. No, there are a great many ways this team can fail, and no need to start the count towards 73 wins yet. But the idea is the same.

And we’re running out of weapons for teams to accumulate.

There are only so many stars in the league, and most of them have headed to one coast or the other. Eventually we’ll run out of stars and things will solidify for a while. Teams will be capped out and unable to make moves for a while. But after the lockout of 2011, which was supposed to help teams with retaining their stars and minimizing the damage to small markets, it would appear that plan has failed. The Hornets can be a good team, but will they be better than they were with Chris Paul? Will the Magic, even if everything goes right, be better?

No, but league ratings will be higher, jersey sales will skyrocket, ticket prices will soar. The league will be a bigger, more profitable place for everyone, and maybe that’s better than market equality, since it’ll at least stabilize the market. But if any other teams are to even compete for a championship, they have to do with efficiency and smart, under-the-radar moves that surprise. Development is a bigger element than it ever has been. The missing pieces is never going to come, because they’ve all already moved to their new location.

There just aren’t enough players left out there to share with the rest of the league.

The Lakers have more starpower than they’ve ever had in the history of their franchise. Think about that. Teams with the Captain and Magic had less star power than the currently assembled team. They managed to send out Andrew Bynum, to get Dwight Howard, and not give up Pau Gasol. The NBA’s premier franchise has not only put itself back in orbit, it’s the biggest ship in the cosmos. The NBA’s arms race has reached a new level, and it was all done within the confines of a new, more difficult CBA.

For two years, the Lakers have been embarrassed in second-round exits. You can consider this the reckoning. The Lakers don’t rebuild, and they don’t reload. They just absorb the brightest stars and add their shine to their own.

 

Rumor: Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert might not offer LeBron James no-trade clause in next contract

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The Cavaliers’ three deadline-day trades appear to have invigorated LeBron James, but a key issue remains as LeBron’s player option approaches: Dan Gilbert still owns the Cavs.

Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

“LeBron wants to be in charge of everything, which is what puts him at odds with Dan,” one source said. “Dan wants to be in charge of everything.”

The belief is that Gilbert, having reasserted control after chasing out Griffin, will rebuff James’ request for a no-trade clause, or any other measures that give him leverage. And that will be enough to drive James away.

“Dan Gilbert’s not going to do what it takes to keep him,” the same source predicted. “Not a chance in hell he’s going to give him a no-trade clause, or let him dictate contract terms.”

LeBron’s no-trade clause might have been useful this season. When things got particularly bad in Cleveland, he affirmed he wouldn’t waive it. I doubt the Cavs would have dealt him regardless, but he made it a certainty.

But a no-trade clause was relevant only because LeBron signed a multi-year contract due to salary-cap rules relevant in 2016. With those no longer pertinent, he might go back to the 1+1 deals he first signed in his return to Cleveland. That’d give him an implicit no-trade clause, as those contracts are treated as one-year deals until the option is exercised, and players on one-year contracts who’d have early or full Bird Rights after can veto any trade.

Still, Gilbert taking this stance would matter if LeBron wants to sign long-term. An official no-trade clause would also carry over to LeBron’s next team if he approves a trade or in the second year of a 1+1 if he opts in. The implicit no-trade would not.

That could be enough for LeBron to demand the official no-trade clause – not just for the possibility it’s useful, but to show he can get it. He seems unwilling to give an inch. It’s about respect.

It also might be about stubbornness – both LeBron’s and Gilbert’s. This would be a ridiculous battleground for LeBron’s Cavaliers tenure to end on – just give LeBron whatever contract he wants – but it wouldn’t be the first ridiculous showdown between Gilbert and LeBron.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: I could never see myself playing for Los Angeles

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All-Star Weekend was (at least) an implicit recruiting tool for the Lakers and Clippers. The host teams could show off Los Angeles – the beautiful weather in middle of winter, the nightlife, the glitz and glamour.

LeBron James‘ praise drew the most attention:

I think L.A. is a perfect place to host All-Star Weekend. It’s one of the few cities that we have in our league that can accommodate all of this. And when I mean all of this, you have over 200-plus countries that’s covering the game. You’ve got so many people from all over the world coming to watch our game and just be a part of All-Star Weekend. And we know the traffic. We understand that. But traffic is traffic and — but L.A. can accommodate that. It’s built for stars. It’s built for entertainment. It’s built for cameras and bright lights, and it’s a great place for it.

Of course, we already knew LeBron was partial to Los Angeles. He has a house there.

But not every All-Star raved about the city.

Bucks forward Antetokounmpo, via Matt Velazquez Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

“I could never see myself being out there,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s great for two, three days but it’s a little bit — things are going a little bit crazy.

“Of course, because of the All-Star Game, there was a lot of people there. … In Milwaukee — I love Milwaukee — it’s low-key. I can walk down the road, down the streets without anybody bugging me — nobody interrupts my conversation or anything. I love how quiet and calm Milwaukee is.”

The Bucks ought to appreciate this outlook. Antetokounmpo once said he wanted to stay with them forever, and – as rumors swirled about his future in Milwaukee, he tweeted, “I got loyalty inside my DNA.” But he has since explained how important it is for a team to do right by its star player, supporting him with a winning supporting cast.

Maybe Antetokounmpo will eventually leave the Bucks, but it seems unlikely that’d be just to reach a bigger market. Milwaukee can’t change its location. The Bucks can somewhat control whether they put a winner around Antetokounmpo.

Still, other teams will try to poach Antetokounmpo – like Joel Embiid‘s 76ers. Antetokounmpo, via Velazquez:

“He told me I should trust the process and come play for Philly,” Antetokounmpo said with a chuckle, drawing a laugh. “That was my reaction — I just laughed.”

PBT Podcast: What to watch during stretch run of season

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Are the Cleveland Cavaliers for real? And by “real” do you mean best in the East or threat to Warriors?

Who is going to make the playoffs in the West? Is Utah going in? Portland? The Los Angeles Clippers?

Is James Harden going win MVP? Is it Ben Simmons or Donovan Mitchell for Rookie of the Year?

Those are just some of the storylines as the NBA races down the stretch run of the season (most teams have around 25 games left). Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break down all the things to watch from the end of the season, including if Detroit can climb up into the postseason, and how the top of the East is going to shake out.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Suns, Hawks say they won’t change strategy to tank

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Phoenix shut down healthy players in a transparent bid to tank last season. But Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said not to expect a repeat.

Scott Bordow of azcentral:

Wednesday, McDonough told azcentral sports that the Suns won’t approach the final 23 games of this season the same way. In other words, Phoenix isn’t tanking in order to improve its chances of landing the No. 1 pick in the May 15 draft lottery.

“We’re planning on doing what we have been doing, that’s playing our young players. For us, that’s not a change,” McDonough said. “… We want to continue to have them improve and get minutes and try to win as many games as we can.”

The Mike Budenholzer-coached Hawks also won’t sit their top players.

Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Some other teams near the bottom of the standings have publicly proclaimed they will favor youth over experience for the final four-plus weeks of the season, but Budenholzer said he will stay the course.

“I think we’ve been a mix of young and veteran guys all year,” he said Wednesday. “I think the way we progressed through the season — of course when you start the season you think it could be a little different — (but) right now but I think the way we’ve played, and the way we continue to play, won’t be that much different.”

To some degree, McDonough and Budenholzer are just trying to avoid a Mark Cuban-esque fine. The NBA discourages most talk of tanking.

But Phoenix and Atlanta don’t need to change their rotations to tank. They’re already good at losing! Both teams are a league-worst 18-41.

Some teams will get more serious about tanking down the stretch. The Suns and Hawks are already there. That doesn’t make them more virtuous than the Mavericks.

Still, this is a tight race for the top of the lottery. Four other teams have just 18 wins. Another has only 19, and one more has only 20. If the Suns and Hawks need to get worse to improve draft position, I wouldn’t put it past either team.

By the way, that headline can be read a couple different ways. That’s intentional.