As David has pointed out in his recent series on NBA injuries, the first quarter of this season has been mired by player injuries and poor play. Granted, there’s an adjustment period every season, but we usually call that training camp and the exhibition season. In addition to the injuries, one has to also concede that this season has been particularly haphazard as evident by the botched Chris Paul trade to the Lakers, and the passive-aggressive melodramas taking place in New Jersey and Orlando over whether to trade or keep Deron Williams and Dwight Howard respectively. Unlike with Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James previously, one is not entirely sure what either Williams or Howard really wants, and how their implied trade demands help efforts to get them a “better supporting cast.”
And although no one will remember this event a year from now, much less a month from now, Sacramento’s recent firing of coach Paul Westphal is also emblematic of the dysfunction pervading the league. Sacramento is one of three NBA teams, Charlotte and New Orleans being the other, that essentially locked in purgatory Each of these three franchises has deep systemic issues that make it impossible for them to plan beyond the upcoming year. Everyone knows this, yet we are to proceed as if this is not the case, or that these teams are at a disadvantage because they are in “small markets.” And every other month one of these teams leaps to the fore in the race for most dysfunctional organization. Sacramento is having its triannual star turn in this category.
Fresh off the heels of last year’s despicable attempt at strong-arming Sacramento residents into building them a new stadium, the Kings drafted two point guards in last year’s draft to give them an incredibly packed backcourt to go alongside their talented but flawed frontcourt. Watching the Kings play you could never tell whether Westphal was being asked to showcase players for a possible trade, or was he legitimately putting out unit he thought gave his team the best chance of winning. Still, other than appeasing Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins in the short term, it’s really unclear what affect firing Westphal will really have on the future of this franchise. Therefore, couldn’t the Kings brain trust have decided on a strategy prior to the start of the season on whether they’d keep Westphal all year, and whether they would make a legitimate run at a playoff spot in the West this year?
A lot of this chaos has left me wondering why all the rush? The Christmas kickoff was attractive to the networks and sponsors, but couldn’t the league have chilled out after Christmas and given the teams more time to practice, heal, plan, etc.
In looking for answers to why this season looks so haphazard, I stumbled upon answer by way of recent comments made by USA Basketball President Jerry Colangelo. Colangelo recently compared the upcoming 2012 Olympic team to 1992′s Dream Team. He’s right, save for the 1996 team, this team might be the most deserving of the comparison. While many have focused on Colangelo’s words, it’s his existence that I found dubious(for a lack of a better word). Since taking the role of USA Basketball president Colangelo has solidified the relationship between the NBA and USA Basketball, to the point that it’s now fair to say that USA Basketball is really an extension of the NBA, or David Stern’s office.
A canceled season might have been a disaster, but that disaster would have surely been amplified if the league lost its chance to showcase the best american talent to a billion people worldwide this summer. The Olympics function as the NBA’s Super Bowl, it’s the only marquee event that the league has where it knows the whole world will be watching. With all the potential losses in sponsorship revenue, merchandise sales, and an opportunity to grab new fans, the prospect of NBA players balking en masse at competing in this summer’s Olympics would have been akin to losing two seasons in the span of a year.
Ironically, given the shortened season and long summer layoff, most players will be in prime form, you guessed, right when the Olympics kick off.