J.J. Redick tries to get a handle on things (Getty Images)
Grab a pull quote, and run with it. Pump it up to 700 or so words, and file away. We do it every day at Ball Don't Lie; but if we feel like we're punching the clock and writing just for writing's sake, we pull back. We're not going to insult you as readers and knowledgeable NBA fans by pretending we can churn out double-digit posts on a day where absolutely nothing is happening in the NBA. Better to just give you a few things, as you scroll around, than to insult you with a lot of noise produced just for the sake of producing.
We kind of wish the Orlando Sentinel had done the same thing with Magic guard J.J. Redick's pull quote from the other day. Here's Redick's frustration, as his afterthought Magic head into what is surely going to be a disastrous year in the wake of the team's bungled attempts at supporting, coddling, and eventually trading Dwight Howard:
"There's like five teams that matter in this league," Redick said last week during media day. "If you're in a small market ... right now it's the Oklahoma City Thunder ... but if you're in small market, you don't matter. That's frustrating. You want to compete, you want to get your recognition, you want people to respect you. So in a sense, that's frustrating."
Probably not the most accurate take, but a general enough one to send semi-fans and general columnists through the roof.
Like, say, Orlando Sentinel columnist Shannon Owens. Owens mixed a batch of well-researched complaints about nearly two decades' worth of defensive rule changes (three different modifications to the hand check rule, relaxed zone restrictions before the 1999-00 and 2001-02 seasons; though she's off on a few of the dates) with the same noise about how the league only thinks personality-first, while somehow blaming star-aligning defensive rule changes with the fact that all the big names are in big cities (or, in Miami's case, nice cities) right now.
You can blame the collective-bargaining agreement for allowing players to flee for the big lights. Or you can blame bad coaching and management on the part of some small-market teams for their stagnant growth.
But none of that gets to the heart of the matter, which in this case, happens to be the matter of the heart.
The NBA isn't in love with basketball anymore. It's in love with the production of stars.
To the last part? Yes. Has been for nearly 70 years, now. "Geo Mikan v/s Knicks."
To the first part? The last three collective bargaining agreements have made player movement tougher and tougher, while handing more money and more incentive for players to stick with incumbent teams. The collective bargaining agreement is your ally here, pal. It's (read: $$$) why Dwight Howard was talking up loyalty while opting into his deal with the Magic just 6 1/2 months ago.
Basketball wasn't designed for one player to dominate the basket. In its purest state, there is ball movement, screens on and away from the ball and defenders challenging the great scorers every step of the way.
Maybe we can get back to more of that if the NBA would kindly remove a few road blocks.
Oh, come off it. Even lower-level college and WNBA teams have trouble getting good shots off the majority of the time, mainly because defenses are so athletic, so well-researched, and players are willing to commit to both sides of the ball in ways that just didn't happen a few decades ago.
It's worth reminding everyone that the NBA wasn't responding to those old defensive rules with five-man action and screens set off the ball. The NBA wasn't playing like Hickory High as it attempted to work through the strict man-to-man rules and legal forms of hand-checking.
No, the league responded with dull-as-Jim Nantz's-dishwater screen and roll play. It isolated two players on the wing extended for a pick and roll or two-man game, and sent three spectators to the other side of the court. Hell, the only thing that kept the league appealing during those eras was the influence of stars, and local rooting interest. Few would be entertained by those Indiana/New York games (either in the mid or late 1990s) unless they weren't compelled by Reggie Miller and Patrick Ewing's star power, the Latrell Sprewell forgiveness saga, or the fact that you were from either Indiana or New York.
The NBA wasn't adding these rule changes to trump up the presence of its stars, not when the no-hand-check-can-stop-him Allen Iverson was leading the league in scoring and filling up stadiums. No, it added these things in order to help everyone else. Because, for long stretches in the post-Jordan era, the NBA was a miserable watch. The NBA would put Phoenix and Toronto on NBC on a Sunday afternoon in 2001 — Jason Kidd! Vince Carter! — and watch as Scott Skiles and Lenny Wilkens would take the air out of the ball on their way to a game with an over/under of 170.
To say that the NBA is trumping up stars, just now, is ridiculous. Not when your parents got to see Magic and Larry's mugs previewing a Sunday afternoon game on CBS during a Friday night "Dallas" showing. Not when the NBA on NBC's extended theme made a point to feature a dozen All-Stars, never once showing a screen away from the ball. It's a throwaway take that pleases the pissed-off punters but doesn't hold up to scrutiny. Especially when the source of Orlando's problems are less easy to digest.
Do you know why Dwight Howard is not in Orlando?
For one, Dwight Howard is a selfish, immature brat with a lot of growing up to do.
Secondly, the Orlando Magic blew their chance at creating a winner around Dwight Howard.
This team was the talk of the NBA in 2009. Fresh off of a trip to the Finals, the franchise smartly declined to spend big money on Hedo Turkoglu, instead orchestrating a trade for Vince Carter that most of us applauded at the time. Carter, for whatever reason, fell off significantly the next season in ways that couldn't have been predicted by his production and age to that point. The team won just as many games in 2010 as in 2009, but fell in the conference finals against a Boston Celtics team that matched up expertly with Orlando.
The franchise then panicked with a series of resulting trades, Dwight Howard didn't like the attention that came from having to lead a team by himself (he craves attention, just not all of the attention all the time), and the squad created a bloated payroll that even by then the big-market New York Knicks were laughing at. Before the Knicks started listening to Isiah Thomas again, that is.
Rashard Lewis' massive deal turned into Gilbert Arenas'. Vince's deal turned back into Hedo Turkoglu's contract, the one they didn't match a few years before, and Jason Richardson and Glen Davis were signed to nutty deals as the Magic bid against themselves. Hell, even Redick was brought back in 2010 as a superfluous backup luxury, when the Magic matched Chicago's offer for the restricted free agent just because they could.
The Magic, like the Knicks and Trail Blazers before them, played big-market ball and lost. At least they got a Finals and conference finals appearance out of it.
The Los Angeles Lakers have a massive payroll because they can afford it, unlike many other NBA teams. But the reason the Lakers have Howard, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash on their massive payroll is because they're equal amounts lucky and smart. The team took advantage of Memphis and Orlando after years of Memphis and Orlando passing on better trading packages for Gasol and Howard. Same with Nash, after the Suns finally realized they were going to lose Steve for absolutely nothing last July. Same with Bryant, when the Charlotte Hornets accurately felt that they were one great 7-footer away from the second round of the playoffs back in 1996.
Luck, talent in the front office, and potentially another round of championships for Los Angeles. For the opposite of that, save for the similarly sized payroll, look toward both New York and Brooklyn.
It's not the hand-checking. It's not the vicissitudes of the big versus small market clashes. It's just a league full of teams trying to win — same as it ever was, while still changing every day.
One would hope that the Magic, having learned their lesson, fully commit to letting new GM Rob Hennigan study his way through this mess, and let the basketball people make the calls. Given some smart moves and a few strokes of luck, the team and its surrounding media won't have to fall back on excuses when things don't go as planned.
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