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.

 

Thunder’s offseason moves start here: Offer Russell Westbrook $220 million contract

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The narrative of Oklahoma City’s first-round playoff loss to Houston — and frankly its entire season — was about how little help Russell Westbrook was given. Game 5 was the perfect example: The Thunder were +12 when Westbrook was on the court, but he rested for 6:07 and OKC was -18 in those minutes. The Thunder’s role players are young and many — for example, Enes Kanter — are very one dimensional, but that’s because their role was supposed to be much more narrow and defined. Then Kevin Durant left and players were asked to do things outside their comfort zones, or grow up fast, and it didn’t go that well.

Thunder GM Sam Presti has some work to do this summer to tweak that roster, make it more versatile, and design it to fit better around Westbrook (not to mention take some of the load off him).

But the first thing Presti has to do is keep Westbrook — and that means offering him a five-year, roughly $220 million extension. Royce Young if ESPN has the details on how that works.

After signing an extension last summer in the wake of Durant’s departure, Westbrook can sign another in the ballpark of $220 million over five years this summer. Westbrook is signed through the 2017-18 season, with a player option on the following year, but the Thunder would obviously like to have a longer commitment from their franchise player.

The expectation is that they will make the offer, but should Westbrook decline, all that talk of stabilizing the franchise would get a little more wobbly, and with only a year guaranteed, talk of trading him could spark again. It will certainly be alarming for the front office, especially after what it went through with Durant.

It’s hard to imagine Westbrook walking away from that money — it’s about $75 million more guaranteed and one more year than any other team can offer. That’s a lot of cash to leave on the table, I don’t care how much you make in endorsements. (If Westbrook left, signed a max deal elsewhere for four years, then signed a max deal for that fifth year later, he still would get roughly $35 million less than signing with the Thunder now.) Once Westbrook is locked into place, Presti can start looking to reshape the Thunder roster.

But if Westbrook pauses and doesn’t sign, the NBA rumor mill will be moving at the speed of Westbrook in transition. The Thunder wouldn’t want to lose Durant and Westbrook for nothing, it would set their rebuilding process way back, so Presti would have to consider trades. However, because Westbrook is a free agent in 2018, he would almost have a no-trade clause — no team is going to give up much to get him without an under-the-table understanding he would re-sign in that city.

Expect Westbrook to agree to the extension in OKC. Because he likes the team — remember, he signed that extension last summer (which got him a healthy pay raise) — and because it would make him the highest-paid player in the NBA, and that would feed his ego (and pocketbook).

Once he does, Presti’s real work begins.

After tough loss, Chris Paul wasn’t having any of reporter’s inane question

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LOS ANGELES — The Clippers are feeling a lot of pressure these playoffs, and they have suffered a couple tough losses at home now. That can lead to some interesting postgame press conferences, something we’ve already seen this series from Doc Rivers.

Tuesday it was Chris Paul‘s turn.

The Clippers had just dropped Game 5 at home and are staring a 3-2 deficit series deficit in the face, and they have to win those two games without the injured Blake Griffin. That’s when this exchange happened.

I was in the room with this happened. Yes, there were a lot of eye rolls when the question was asked.

This was not a rookie reporter, it was a guy who gets sound for local radio stations and has been a regular at Staples Center games for years. He knew what he wanted, a fairly standard quote about how the Clippers just need to take it one game at a time but they are confident they will be back, that they can still win the series. We have all heard it before, the kind of generic crap that is all over columns about the game and talk radio. The reporter served up the softball and, frankly, most nights savvy players just give the reporter the quote they want and move on.

Tuesday Paul was having none of it. Which led to a pretty amusing exchange, especially with the follow up that was not going anywhere.

That said, I do not know one reporter worth his or her salt who has not asked a question they regret, and been called out for it. Sometimes we get called out for good questions we do not regret. It is part of the gig.

Rajon Rondo says he will not play in Game 5, doesn’t sound optimistic about quick return

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He tried. Rajon Rondo has seen the Chicago Bulls struggle the last two games without him as a strong defender and stabilizing influence at point guard — something nobody thought Rondo would be mid-season — and he wanted to get back on the court for Game 5 against the Celtics. He took some steps toward getting ready to play.

But it’s not happening, Rondo said at shootaround Wednesday. From Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com and K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.

And it’s not just the fractured thumb.

If the Bulls are going to win this series, they are going to have to do it without Rondo.

Isaiah Canaan will get the start in Game 5, and he will set a lot of screens in a 1/3 pick-and-roll to try and get Isaiah Thomas switched on to Jimmy Butler. Canaan can do that. He had fallen way out of the rotation and is really a two-guard not a point, but with the terrible play of Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams, coach Fred Hoiberg took a gamble. It worked, at least for one game. Canaan with the other four Bulls starters — Butler, Dwyane Wade, Nikola Mirotic, and Robin Lopez — were +12 in 11 minutes together in Game 4, and played well on both ends of the court. But Canaan was buried on the bench for a reason, he shot 36.4 percent on the season, 26.6 percent from three, and he’s not a great defender. The Celtics will be prepared for him in Game 5.

Hoiberg’s best option is to lean on a no point guard lineup when it matters most, with three wings who can handle the ball in Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, and probably Denzel Valentine. That could be a challenging defensive lineup and Boston will try to get the lightning quick Isaiah Thomas switched onto Wade or Valentine (neither of which can guard him). Also, this lineup would be draining and put a big load on Butler, but he could handle it for critical stretches of the game.

Cleveland OKs last chunk of financing to upgrade Cavs’ arena

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Cleveland officials have committed the final chunk of financing for $140 million in upgrades planned at the Cavaliers’ home arena.

The makeover of Quicken Loans Arena would include more space for dining and gathering.

The cost of renovations to the concert and sports venue is being split by the city, the team, Cuyahoga County, and a convention and visitors bureau. The final total is expected to be roughly double the initial $140 million price tag, mostly because of interest over the next two decades.

Cleveland’s share is an estimated $88 million over 11 years, starting in 2024. Mayor Frank Jackson signed off on that Tuesday.

The county already approved the deal and agreed to sell bonds for the project.

The team committed to extend its lease at the arena to 2034. It is expected the team will make a bid to host the NBA All-Star game once renovations are complete.