Thrill of the chase
In blockbuster-mad West, Lakers may be big winner
Posted: Tuesday February 19, 2008 1:51PM; Updated: Wednesday February 20, 2008 6:16PM
Growing up as I did in a city where dead people voted, it's no big deal now to cover a league in which retired people get traded.
What worked so well for so long for the Democrats in Chicago elections seems to be the ticket now for stirring the big pot of NBA player movement as Thursday's trade deadline approaches.
If packaging Aaron McKie and Keith Van Horn in major transactions long past the point of their hardwood usefulness and ever so close to their NBAPA pensions can facilitate trades of marquee names such as Pau Gasol and Jason Kidd, imagine how the East and West landscapes might shift once Reggie Miller, Larry Bird, Walt Frazier, Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan hit the peddlers' market again.
Now if only there were some way to combine the two charades -- the habit of Chicago election monitors to look the other way when Harold Washington, Mike Royko, John Belushi, Al Capone and Mrs. O'Leary (of cow fame) show up to mark their ballots, and the NBA's collectively bargained, overly complicated and self-mocking trade rules -- we'd really have something to talk and write about this week. The mind boggles at what Wilt Chamberlain, Pete Maravich or George Mikan could bring back in trade.
How this Sixth Sense strategy of building out and legitimizing trade packages (I see dead careers. And pay $4.3 million for them) looks better to commissioner David Stern and his integrity cops than Jerry Stackhouse flaunting the 30-day rule for re-signing with the club that just dealt you is a story for another day. What we do know is that the tactic has enabled and escalated an arms race in the Western Conference that, successful or not come June, has made for some dynamite theater between now and May.
If the Los Angeles Lakers don't surprise everyone -- and offend San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich's sense of fair-market value, if not fair play -- by landing Gasol at a bargain price from Memphis (including McKie's rusty services), then the Phoenix Suns probably don't risk their magnificently tuned Ferrari attack by hitching a Winnebago to the back bumper. Bad enough that Shaquille O'Neal's Superman alter ego got appropriated by Dwight Howard in the slam dunk contest last weekend; what's worse is that O'Neal looks to have downed a few too many Kryptonite cocktails this season, to the point he is more a Man of Steal Money than the Man of Steel.
Still, if the Suns don't gamble on O'Neal, the Dallas Mavericks maybe don't try and try again to procure Kidd's services from the New Jersey Nets. The Mavs, of course, had to sacrifice; they no longer can drool over the prospect of Kidd craftily passing on the break to Van Horn's cleaned-pressed-closeted-and-musty jersey. But they did manage to keep Devean George, who set an unofficial NBA record by committing a blocking foul on a half dozen players, two franchises and tens of thousands of fans, all at once. And Stackhouse, too, minus the sort of loophole leaps that make tax attorneys rich while keeping their clients that way.
That puts it to Denver, Utah, Houston, San Antonio, New Orleans and Portland to call, raise or fold through deals or no-deals of their own. (Golden State must have gotten confused, going the cemetery route by digging up Chris Webber, but then keeping him). Names of players such as Mike Miller, Andre Miller, Ron Artest, Ben Gordon, Sam Cassell and Vince Carter still were being bandied about this week, and if any of them ended up with a Western Conference contender, the ante would be upped all over again.
"People in the West are getting stronger because of the Spurs,'' Kevin Garnett told USA Today. "The Spurs are the best team in the league. Yo don't have to go by records; they're the champions. Phoenix made their move because of the Spurs. I think the Lakers made their moves because of the Spurs.''
The Spurs' big move, to this point, was adding point guard Damon Stoudamire, but more out of need in Tony Parker's injury absence than as a move to intimidate or overpower. Still, it was one more NBA brand name moving to the West's upper division.
Speaking of which ...
"It's about time for Kevin Garnett to come back to the West, isn't it?'' Minnesota coach Randy Wittman said just before the All-Star break, on the night the first permutation of the Kidd trade leaked out.