Well, the ends probably didn’t justify the means, but at least the ends finally ended. And at least “Chris Paul to Blake Griffin” makes for ends so substantial they might be transcendent.
The general consensus is that the NBAleans HornSterns got a better deal in their second go-round, and I won’t disagree. But I find the why quite fascinating here.
Much of the appeal in this Clippers-Hornets trade is derived from how it makes the Hornets immediately, well, bad. John Schuhmann’s NOH depth chart analysis reveals a squad so deep at bottom that home games might well be played before those hideous sea creatures whose eyes eventually fall off from lack of light. If the fish aren’t blind already, pupils will melt from watching Jarett Jack as starting point guard, or Al-Farouq Aminu as a misplaced power forward.
Obviously, Eric Gordon is a key get, but few observers believe he’ll take New Orleans to next year’s playoffs. And that’s the point. The Hornets will receive a high lottery selection to pair with Minnesota’s 2011 draft pick. A gutted team plus lotto hope makes for a more enticing situation than the playoff contention troika of Luis Scola, Lamar Odom, and Kevin Martin.
By shepherding this particular trade through, the commissioner is tacitly–maybe even overtly–singing a grand, bellowing ode to the glories of tanking. And he is quite correct, because ping pong balls determine so much.
Quoting Tom Haberstroh’s piece on drafting and parity:
“Dirk Nowitzki was drafted by the Mavericks (in a draft-day trade). Tim Duncan was drafted by the Spurs. Kobe Bryant was drafted by the Lakers (in a draft-day trade). Michael Jordan was drafted by the Bulls. Dwyane Wade and the Heat, Hakeem and the Rockets, so on and so forth.“
The Hornets could be the next so on and so forth, especially if they tank like Stalingrad. There is a massive incentive to stink on account of the NBA’s weighted lottery system. The league used to give every lotto team an equal shot, but overcorrected after the Magic won number one picks in consecutive years. From that point forward, putridity equalled a decent shot at excellence.
Oklahoma City has become a beaming advertisement for building from the rubble of lottery visits. Not only did OKC nab top talent this way, but the NBA ensures that players like Durant or Westbrook get wildly underpaid. Quoting Haberstroh, again:
“Thanks to the rookie scale that keeps salaries artificially depressed for several years, the Thunder paid Kevin Durant, the NBA’s leading scorer, about a third of what the Jazz paid for Andrei Kirilenko last season.”
Draft primacy might even increase over the coming years. The new CBA seeks to help teams “lock in” franchise players at an earlier juncture, by moving a 30% maximum salary bump from year seven to year five. Of this alteration, Larry Coon writes:
“Allowing franchise players such as these to sign for the higher maximum sooner reduces the temptation for these players to sign shorter contracts, delaying their eventual free agency.”
I often joke, “Superstars shouldn’t be deciding team fates like CP3 and LeBron did! That’s a ping pong ball’s sacred job!” My lame humor sense aside, pro basketball may be entering an era of ping pong dominance–if it’s not there already. A GM’s most important duty may be to properly orchestrate his team’s awfulness. If this is the case, then David Stern is already far beyond the squad-building talents of those fools who try to compete short-term.