Tuesday, February 22, 2011

NBA: Are There Any Teams Left in the League?

Carmelo Anthony has officially flexed his star power muscle, effectively forcing the Denver Nuggets to trade away its face of the franchise to the New York Knicks for a package of players, picks, and cashola.

The initial reaction is anxious excitement. The Knicks are now a threat to make a serious run in the playoffs, joining Chicago and Miami as teams that have remodeled their rosters with legit superstars.

The other, deeper thought is: How is it that these players have control over their respective teams to the point where they can determine when and where they will be traded? And is it good for the league to have these friends around the league plot and devise plans to join forces, rendering more than half the league void of a superstar, and therefore creating a league of six or seven dream teams and twenty-plus fill ins?

I do not pretend to know the answer to the first question, nor do I care. They just do.

The answer to the second question, however, is easy. Yes. Yes, it is good for the league to have super teams. Goliaths, if you will.

When LeBron took…He joined Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, forming the latest and possibly greatest trio in NBA history. Of course, this remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that three number 1 options deciding to call the same city home, in the prime of their careers, is unprecedented.

The Knicks are now primed to create the latest super trio. It is no secret that Chris Paul would love to go north and become a Knick when he is eligible for free agency in 2012. While he may be the first name that comes to mind, there are other stars around the league that would surely jump at the opportunity of playing in the Mecca of basketball alongside two other studs while battling Miami’s Big Treat and the D-Rose led Chicago Bulls for years to come.

We fans would surely benefit from witnessing this renaissance. Heat-Knicks. The rivalry from the ‘90s is about to get interesting again, and all fans, Miami, New York, or otherwise, are surely looking forward to it.


There is another side of this perceived David vs. Goliath, haves vs. have nots, dream team vs. average at best, pre-determined playoffs league that the NBA is gravitating toward with superstars naming their destination and deciding who will join them. There is another side which is just as exciting as anticipating an all-star game in conference finals clothing.

What about these other teams, these have nots? Why should they play a game when it is painfully obvious that there is not a realistic chance of winning anything, not without any superstars?

The Nuggets seemed to make out like successful gold-diggers. Rather than losing Anthony for nothing in return, Denver has a nice, young core to build around, and they might not be done dealing.

While losing Chauncey Billups is a big loss, he is not the future. The Nuggets have a potential starting line-up of Raymond Felton, Aaron Afflalo, Wilson Chandler, Kenyon Martin and Nene. The bench is now a little deeper: Ty Lawson, J.R. Smith, Al Harrington, Chris Andersen, and Timofey Mozgov. Add Danilo Gallinari to the mix, assuming he is not dealt to another team before Thursday’s trade deadline.

Certainly, this roster does not inspire images of poppin’ bottles in June, but why not?

The team will be guard-heavy, which would be their strength. The bigs will defend and rebound for you, but the scoring will come from the backcourt. The two point guards are champions, if only in the college ranks. This team’s only problem is that it lacks a superstar.

But what about Team?

While superstars run the league, the game of basketball is the ultimate team game throughout the course of the game. Sure, football and soccer have more moving pieces. Football in one play, and soccer also throughout the game, but the team aspect comes in spurts. In basketball, all five players must be on the same page every second of the game. Even if that just means a role player getting out of the way to create space for the scorer to attack the rim.

The Houston Rockets of ’09 are the most recent example of a true basketball Team lacking a true superstar. The season started off with expectations that were out of this world, yet seemingly attainable. Yao Ming was the centerpiece, and Tracy McGrady was finally healthy. Unfortunately, both stars suffered season-ending injuries, forcing the rest of the Rockets, including Ron Artest, to learn how to play Team basketball.

In the end, the eventual world champion LA Lakers eliminated this pesky crew in the conference semi-finals. But it wasn’t until Game 7.

Before these Rockets, the 2004 Detroit Pistons showed the world why and how Teams can still rule this league. Facing the big and bad Shaquille O’Neal led Lakers, along with Kobe, Gary Payton, and Karl Malone, the Pistons and Billups simply played lockdown defense and ultimate team-first offense, more often than not each player touching the ball at least once per possession. Detroit dominated the Lakers, clinching the title in five games.

That title in ’04 is the ultimate validation for Team basketball. Of course, the teams with superstars that play Team basketball will fare the best. Boston and San Antonio are the best examples of this.

With the league seemingly entering a superstar or bust mode, it is now time for teams to become Teams.

And that is exciting, too.

1-2-3! Team!

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