So, last week we asked if anything would actually happen at the NBA trade deadline this year. Well, once again the trade deadline was mostly a bust. Thankfully there was bigger news this week as Jason Collins, who had been without a team since coming out as gay last April, signed with the Brooklyn Nets, giving the NBA world a big enough story that they wouldn’t have to create one for themselves, although one news organization may have attempted to do that regardless.
Jason Collins signing already a PR coup
Even though his game was limited even during his younger years, Jason Collins gave the Brooklyn Nets what they asked from him in his debut on Sunday night against the Los Angeles Lakers: 10 minutes off the bench, five fouls, two rebounds and (to the surprise of no one) zero points. While the debut was about what you would expect from Collins, especially since he hadn’t played in a NBA game for almost a year, it obviously wasn’t enough to quiet all the skeptics. The Brooklyn Nets made history on Sunday
night by signing the NBA’s first openly gay player, but some wonder how much Brooklyn’s motivations for signing Jason
Collins were, despite what ownership has said, motivated by non-basketball
There are some circumstances here that make the timing significant. Jason Collins has been out since last April, but no team signed him until last Sunday. This happened just days after NFL Draft hopeful Michael Sam publicly came out, raising the very real possibility that, if he were drafted, the NFL might welcome their first gay player before the NBA, even though teams had been able to sign Collins for nearly a year. Could new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, in his first month on the job, have been pressuring teams to give Collins a shot despite denials he made before the Nets signing?
If there was an NBA team most likely to consider the extra-basketball benefits of signing a certain player it would be the Brooklyn Nets. Since making the move from New Jersey, the Nets have been almost as invested in building up their brand as they have been in trying to quickly cobble together a championship-contending team. While GM Billy King attempted to shut down this line of thinking when he prefixed his remarks about the Collins signing by emphasizing it was “a basketball decision”, it’s not an entirely uncommon thing for a team to factor in non-basketball factors into a signing. Earlier this season, the crosstown New York Knicks wasted a roster spot on Chris Smith in a (extremely failed) attempt to appease his brother JR. Jason Collins, in his one-game cameo, probably has already given the Nets way more than Chris gave the Knicks.
Ultimately, the timing probably had less to do with any external factors, and had more to do with the fact that the Nets were desperate to fill a fairly large hole in their lineup and their first few plans fell apart. They held off on offering Collins a 10-day contract with the hope they could have either swung a trade with the Los Angeles Lakers for the talented, but grossly overpaid, Jordan Hill or possibly sign Glen Davis, who ended up deciding to join the Los Angeles Clippers. To put it bluntly, while other factors may have had some amount of influence, it seems that Brooklyn signed Collins when they did because that’s when they ran out of better options.
Which is not to say that there won’t be a group of people who will be following Nets games with a bit more interest than before. After signing with the Nets, Jason Collins said he would again wear 98, in tribute of Matthew Shepard who was killed in a shocking hate crime in 1998. Although he wore “46” during his Nets debut on Sunday – it was the only shirt available for Collins, who signed mere hours before gametime – he will debut “98” when the Nets play the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday. The shirts are already becoming a popular commodity. They were the NBA’s top seller this week, as longtime reader Aram Mushegian has pointed out, and it’s safe to say that many of those buying them were not huge Nets fans, and maybe not even fans of basketball in general, before the signing. That may or may not have factored in the final decision, but the NBA general will not be complaining about the spike in sales.
No, the trade deadline wasn’t interesting
Last year, the NBA trading deadline was so dismal that it led to J.J. Redick being on the front page of ESPN.com for a few hours. This year’s deadline was not much more exciting. Teams made more transactions this year, but there weren’t too many big names. Pau Gasol is still a Laker, Rajon Rondo is still a Celtic and there wasn’t even a peep about Dwight Howard this year (thank heavens).
The biggest trade wasn’t even announced until Thursday’s 3:00pm EST deadline had already passed, as the Indiana Pacers sent former face-of-the-franchise Danny Granger to the Philadelphia 76ers for Evan Turner. The 76ers, who are in full on tank mode, also traded Spencer Hawes to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are apparently still quixotically pursuing a spot in the playoffs. The 76ers received Earl Clark back in the exchange, whom they promptly bought out. The Sixers have now reached a point where the most iconic image of their season is that of a fan hibernating in the front row.
The Brooklyn Nets sent out Reggie Evans and Jason Terry to the
Sacramento Kings for Marcus Thornton. It was a pure contract dump for Sacramento, who announced that Jason Terry would rehab his ailing knee rather than suiting up for the Kings. It’s not yet certain whether not having Terry in the lineup will help or hurt in the team’s attempt to tank for the shot at getting a higher draft pick.
Okay, you’re yawning, that’s understandable, this trading deadline featured a lot of transactions but not much actually happened. Here are the rest of notable deals that took place late Wednesday through the Thursday deadline, although this may stretch the definition of “notable” somewhat.
• The Clippers unloaded Antawn Jamison to the Atlanta Hawks for mostly nothing, and sent Byron Mullens to the Philadelphia 76ers, which is just cruel.
• The Milwaukee Bucks sent Gary Neal, along with Luke Ridnour, to the Charlotte Bobcats, who gave up Ramon Sessions and Jeff Adrien in the trade. So the Bobcats who have actually added a piece at the trade deadline for the first time since… um, well… moving on!
• The Miami Heat gave away Roger Mason Jr to the Sacramento Kings, for a theoretical second round pick. So basically nothing.
• The San Antonio Spurs sent Nando de Coto to the Toronto Raptors for Austin Daye, but only on the condition that these two players actually exist and are not names their GMs just made up during a particularly boozy late night meeting.
• The Denver Nuggets traded Aaron Brooks for Jordan Hamilton of the Houston Rockets. Hey, a straight up trade, how charmingly old school.
• Less old school: The Washington Wizards landed veteran Andre Miller from the Denver Nuggets, giving up Eric Maynor and Jan Vesely in one those very involved three-team trades with the very busy Philadelphia 76ers. Miller had more than worn out his welcome in Denver, having not played since a November altercation with Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw, which makes him a good fit with the Wizards because Washington has been so great about dealing with players with attitude problems in the past.
• The Golden State Warriors landed a veteran backup point guard in the Los Angeles Lakers’ Steve Blake for two younger players, Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks. Kobe Bryant was “not cool” with the move, which means its entirely possible the this-close-to-tanking Lakers are trying to ensure that the injured Bryant isn’t motivated enough to attempt a comeback this season.
LeBron James bleeds
The reigning MVP hit the floor. It was the fourth quarter of what would be a big Miami Heat victory against the team on top of the Western Conference. He had just dunked on the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Serge Ibaka: an emphatic dunk, he’s been doing those a lot lately. While the rest of his team ran to the other side of the floor to try to stop the Thunder from scoring, the best basketball player on the planet was dazed and struggling to get up, blood flowing from his face. His blood. It would have been considerably less surprising had LeBron James just risen up to reveal a newly exposed glowing red eye and a metallic exoskeleton underneath his skin. Honestly, it would have made a world of sense.
But, no it turns out LeBron James is in fact mortal, or at least his nose is. He did not return to the game. Didn’t need to, really. The final score had the Heat beating the Thunder 103-81, but no one really seemed to care at that point. It shouldn’t be shocking when we are reminded that great athletes are just human beings that can do really impressive things and not cyborgs, metahumans or supernatural deities and yet sometimes it is. LeBron James has been so otherworldly these last few years, playing basketball as well as any human being possibly could, that when cameras caught him bleeding it felt like they were exposing us to something we weren’t supposed to see. It was like recognizing the hidden relative behind a Santa beard. Twitter was stunned and reduced to making outdated “Dodgeball” punchlines.
The diagnosis came afterwords. James suffered a broken nose on the play, and he sat out the Miami Heat’s 93-79 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Sunday. Greg Oden replaced him in the starting lineup. The nose injury does raise the possibility that when LeBron James returns he will have to wear one of those weird Hannibal Lecter-y masks. (Yes, LeBron James has already seen that photoshop with him as a Bane, he even retweeted it). James says he probably will be good to go on
Thursday when the Heat face the New York Knicks, presumably just as a
rehab start to get him back in the rhythm before the Heat face an actual NBA
Wait, back up, Greg Oden really started a game for Miami? What a weird freaking season this has been.
Although they lost to the Heat, there was actually some good news for the Oklahoma City Thunder as they ended up losing center Kendrick Perkins for six weeks with a groin strain. Considering how badly the team seems to play with Perkins in the lineup, this helps ensure that head coach Scott Brooks won’t be playing his “starting” center enough to hurt the team. This might just have wrapped up the battle for the top seed in the Western Conference.
Since this seems to be mutating into an “injury report” section anyways, if you happen to have wagered any money on when the next Nene injury was going to happen, hopefully you put it on mid-February. The oft-injured Washington Wizards power forward injured his knee Sunday night and will be out four-to-six weeks with a MCL strain. There’s a chance he may be done for the regular season, and there’s no guarantee that the Wizards, despite having one of their best seasons in ages, will make it to the playoffs. Losing Nene, obviously, won’t help with that.
The NBA is contemplating a four-point line. Unless they aren’t
Antoine Walker, the All-Star power forward best known for his long stint with the Boston Celtics and his supporting role with the Miami Heat’s first championship team, was a great player but not really an efficient three-point shooter. His love affair with the long ball hurt his teams as often as it helped. This sparked one of the greatest quotes in NBA history. When asked why he attempted so many threes, Walker said: “Because there are no fours.”
Could that be changing? Earlier this week, there was talk about the NBA adding a four-point line. ESPN’s Henry Abbott had a discussion with Rob Thorn and Kiki VanDeWeghe where they discussed the possibility and admitted to mulling it over, along with other hypotheticals, not automatically discounting it but not really implying that it was ever seriously considered. This, of course, gave ESPN enough of an excuse to run with the idea as a conversation starter, which was all they really wanted.
That discussion ended up being mostly negative. Fans, for the most part, tend to like the product that’s already out there, if they didn’t they wouldn’t have become fans in the first place. It’s why many fans of National League baseball argue against the designated hitter despite the fact it’s self-evidently silly to force pitchers to hit. Heck, there were a lot of fans against the NBA adopting the three-point line, although it should be noted fans were able to warm up to it a bit quicker as they were already familiar with the idea from the ABA, while a four-point line is purely theoretical at the moment.
It may in fact stay theoretical for the time being as this whole thing could just be about giving ESPN something to talk about. Let’s hear it from NBA spokesperson Tim Frank:
No one at the NBA,nor the competition committee, has had any
serious conversations about increasing the size of the floor or adding a
4-point line. Rod Thorn and Kiki VanDeWeghe were entertaining a line of
questioning about out of the box ideas and ESPN.com chose to make a
story that doesn’t exist.
In other words, the NBA might implement a “four point line” around the same time that you can pay your gas bill with bitcoins.
Other things we’ve learned
• And the latest painful loss for the New York Knicks is… (rolls 20-sided dice) DIRK NOWITZKI GAME WINNER THAT PROBABLY RATTLES OUT 99 TIMES OUT OF 100! (And this fan is not happy about it.)
• And just in case you thought this season couldn’t get anymore Knicks-ian, it turns out that Raymond Felton learned nothing about New York’s gun laws from Plaxico Burress. Details are still emerging about the situation which led to police arresting the struggling Knicks point guard for unlawful possession of a firearm, but it doesn’t sound like a story that’s going away.
• At this point it’s no wonder that they bought out Metta World Peace.
While he hasn’t done anything too crazy during his time with the
Knicks, it’s not like keeping him around would help any.
To fill in that extra space on the roster, the Knicks have signed Earl Clark,
who was traded by the Cavaliers and then cut by the 76ers about a dozen
paragraphs ago. Presumably the Knicks will hand Clark a jersey that has
no number, just the phrase “DECKCHAIR ON THE TITANIC” written on it.
• While fours may not be happening in the near future, we still have the three. Grantland’s Jason Schwartz on the Future of the NBA, or at least the Very Strange Present of the D-League, gave an in-depth look about how the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, are focusing on three-point shooting to extreme new levels.
• Just when you thought it was safe to take in a basketball game in New Orleans, Pierre 1.0 might be gone, but there’s still The Last Thing You See You Before You Die: King Cake Baby. King Cake Baby. Jesus.
• Ending this week’s column on a sad note: The Chicago Bulls said goodbye to one of their biggest fans:
There’s some moments of genius even in some of Harold Ramis’s lesser films like these bits from “Bedazzled” that mock the most deserving of targets: basketball commentators.
Jason Collins speculation, four-pointers and other NBA conspiracies – The Guardian