The rumble isn't exactly a new one, fans and media have been complaining about the big-market superstar mashups for a few years now, but you get the feeling the noise is going to grow louder and louder throughout the 2012-13 season. Dwight Howard and Steve Nash just joined the Los Angeles Lakers, with one era's best point guard and another era's top center teaming up with the next-generation version of Kobe Bryant and a player in Pau Gasol that is far and away the most talented and versatile big man in the game. If it seems like an embarrassment of riches, it's because it is — possibly overshadowing that other embarrassment of riches, the 2012 champion Miami Heat, along the way.
And fans of just about every other team in the NBA are just left to vent, and complain. Same with coaches, GMs, and apparently starting centers. Starting with starting center Andrew Bogut, who started up on the Lakers in an interview with the San Jose Mercury News' Tim Kawakami:
-Q: You bring up Howard. What'd you think when Dwight and Nash end up in LA?
-BOGUT: (Shakes his head.) The rich get richer. That's generally how it is in the NBA. Grown accustomed to it the last five-six years. The rich get richer and the poor have to kind of scrounge and find other role players to fill it in. That's kind of the way it is.
This is the way it is, with four potential All-Star starters dotting Los Angeles' lineup, and talk of 73 wins in the air. But can we cut the complaining out now, please? Not to pick on Bogut, who was merely offering a mild bit of frustration sent Kawakami's way, but we need to get a few things straight.
1). NBA players want to be in flashy cities. Miami may not boast the biggest market, but the entire area is a spectacle of sorts, and most players want to embrace those sorts of things. The same goes for both teams in New York, Los Angeles, and potentially Chicago. This is how it has been for decades — players want a bit of flash at an age that they think will serve as the most vibrant and exciting part of their life.
2). Los Angeles did not get Dwight Howard and Steve Nash (and, while we're at it, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol) merely because they're "Los Angeles." They acquired those players because they're lucky sons-of-you-knows, who also happen to be quite good at team -building.
There were reports around the 1996 NBA draft that Kobe Bryant would balk at the prospect of playing for New Jersey under John Calipari, and take his talents overseas, but even Bryant has admitted that these rumors were planted as a bluff; put in place once it became apparent that the Lakers were attempting to trade up in order to acquire Bryant's draft rights. Credit the Lakers for trading an All-Star level center in his prime for the rights to an 18-year-old that not everyone was sold on (peep the final paragraph in this 1996 feature on Bryant).
Gasol? He only became a Laker after the Memphis Grizzlies turned down significant overtures from several other teams for his services in the months leading up to the deal that sent him to the Lakers in February of 2008.
Yes, the Grizz lucked out that Marc Gasol worked his way into better shape while becoming an All-Star himself, but at the time the package that Memphis acquired for Pau wasn't nearly as good as the ones they had turned down in previous years from other teams. The Lakers just took advantage of Memphis finally deciding to sign off on rebuilding; years after the better cap space/draft pick/prospect packages Memphis had turned down from other teams had been frittered away.
Nash? Again, for years the Phoenix Suns turned down better offers than the relative pittance Los Angeles sent Arizona's way last July. The Lakers, as was the case with Gasol, just happened to be the ones left standing only after a middling team finally admitted that it was time to rebuild.
Howard? Yes, he's been living in Los Angeles since last spring, but the four-team deal that sent Dwight from Orlando to the Lakers was the end result of a needlessly convoluted and drawn out drama perpetuated by a selfish superstar and a franchise in Orlando that could not have handled things worse. The Orlando Magic ownership and front office made mistake after mistake with Howard before finally employing a new GM in (way too) late June to comb through the mess that they'd created, only to (if rumors are to be believed) overrule the well-respected young GM now in charge as they dealt Howard for pennies on the dollar and little cap relief.
And the Lakers, who took a chance on a 17-year-old Andrew Bynum in 2005 in the heart of Kobe's prime, had the piece in place to make it work. We've spent endless hours moaning about the Buss family and their mercurial ways, but theirs is a bottom line that they've created. This team took chances, and those chances have paid off. And by sheer luck with timing (trading a would-be All-Star in Caron Butler for Kwame Brown … only to turn Brown into Pau Gasol?), the Lakers have made it work.
This is a team that is 5 1/2 years removed from nearly turning Bynum into Jason Kidd. They waited, much to many people's chagrin, and now they have Dwight Howard to show for it. If only for a year.
These alternating strokes of genius and luck won't change the notion that NBA players only want to be in four or five cities — because NBA players do really want to be in only four or five cities. Given most North Americans' druthers, with the wealth in place to make it happen, a healthy percentage of us would do the same.
This won't stop the chorus, especially if the Oklahoma City Thunder has to pass on paying James Harden because of luxury tax concerns, and if Howard commits to Los Angeles with a contract extension next July.
It's going to be hard to root for the Lakers because of Howard's petulant act. We're over a month removed from the deal that sent Dwight to Los Angeles and the anger and frustration toward the immature 26-year-old (who turns 27 five weeks into this season) hasn't abated. It's just fine for that to carry over into the season, and beyond. Few players deserve what he's been handed, and Howard most certainly is not amongst those few.
The Lakers have earned what they've gotten, though. This is a team that smartly cobbled together assets and dug through two embarrassing second-round defeats before pouncing at the right time as they climb back toward relevance. To slough them off merely because they get to play with bigger bills than everyone else would be missing the point. The Knicks have a big payroll and a lot of maximum salaries, along with some pretty significant names on the roster. Nobody's scared of them, though.
It's going to be hard, but for the sake of fandom we're going to have to find a way to cut the whinin' and moaning. Starting with the starting centers.
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