The Wild Weekend in NBA Free Agency

The Wild Weekend in NBA Free Agency
July 14, 2014, 2:45 pm
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This time last week, the NBA was held captive (hostage?) by LeBron James’ Decision 2.0 and the basketball world was collectively trapped under a tiny bubble of speculation, lies and the lying liars who tweet them. For my money, it was the NBA offseason at its worst. The Internet, and Twitter and sports media in general at its worst. It was click bait. Fake accounts. Sources close to sources. Stalking flight patterns and deciphering the HTML code of different color schemes. It was insanity. And as it built, you could feel tension around the league building with it.
 
LeBron’s indecision — albeit justified — had clogged the giant fire hose of the NBA offseason, and league activity grinded to halt. No one was moving until LeBron moved, but all the while we knew that once he did, the floodgates would open and a great wave — we’re talking 50-Year Storm kind of stuff — was waiting on the other side, ready to topple us with the force of Adrian Peterson running full speed through a line-up of fourth graders.
 
Today, we’re about 72 hours removed from the essay that opened those floodgates, and well . . .
 
For starters, Paul Pierce now plays for the Washington Wizards — and here are six thoughts on that.
 
1. Pierce-to-Washington broke late Saturday night, as Bostonians at packed bars throughout the city instantly worried that someone had dropped acid into their beer. I was shocked, too. Who wasn’t? Paul Pierce on the Wizards? That’s like Tom Brady finishing his career with the Jaguars; David Ortiz signing a free agent deal with the Kansas City Royals.
 
2. After shock came pity. I felt bad for Pierce. Not because he has to play for the Wizards, because that’s not so bad. Washington has one of the best young backcourts in the NBA; they have a legitimate starting center. They’ll be in the playoffs next year and at the very least are in a much better present day condition than the Celtics. But I felt bad for Pierce because you know Washington wasn’t his first choice. He wanted to go home and play for Doc Rivers and contend for one more title alongside Chris Paul and Blake Griffin — but apparently the feeling wasn’t mutual enough.
 
He’d have rather gone back to Brooklyn, as well. To have one more season with Kevin Garnett, plus Deron Williams and a hopefully healthy Brook Lopez. To not pick up and move only a year after picking up and moving. To live in New York. But the Nets didn’t want to pay either.
 
So Paul had to settle on the Wizards, and again, there are far worse places he could have settled. But settling is settling. It sucks when people settle. Especially people you care about. And Boston will always care about Paul Pierce.
 
3. After pity — which came after shock — came acceptance. Yeah, it’ll be weird to see Pierce in yet another uniform. Especially a Wizards uniform (although at least they’re no longer wearing these). It sucks to think of Paul Pierce as a mercenary — especially when he’s mercenarying on a team that’s not going to win a title. It sucks to think of Pierce as anything but a Celtic. But let’s be honest — 10, 15, 20 years from now — that’s how everyone will remember him.
 
4. Pierce is a full 15 years older than Bradley Beal — the Wizards starting shooting guard. Comparatively, the age difference between Pierce and Beal is the same difference between Pierce and Patrick Ewing. Pierce and John Stockton.
 
Pierce and Doc Rivers are only sixteen years apart.
 
(The biggest age discrepancy between young Pierce and a teammate was 12 years — that teammate was Mark Bryant, who played two games with Boston in 2003.
 
5. Pierce is old but not as old as I thought — that’s because he never played against the Bullets. I figured that he had. But in reality, Pierce’s rookie season was the “Wizards” second season.
 
Note: Pierce’s first career game against the Wizards came on February 21, 1999 and produced his first career double-double — 24 points and 12 rebounds.
 
Another note: By my count, there are only five active NBA players who played against the Washington Bullets: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Marcus Camby
 
6. Now that The Truth is officially back for at least one more season, here’s what lies ahead on the milestone front —
 
He needs 583 points to pass Jerry West, Reggie Miller and Alex English for 15th on the all-time scoring list.*
 
He needs 54 more three pointers to pass Jason Kidd for third on the all-time list; and 65 three-pointers to join Ray Allen and Reggie Miller as the only players with 2000 made in a career.
 
He needs 21 steals to pass Metta World Peace for 20th all time. He also needs one more rebound for 7,000 in his career and one more block for 700.
 
(*Pierce will have to keep pace with Tim Duncan, who’s only 127 points behind.)
 
I could write another 700 words on Pierce and the Wizards, but there were a few other big free agent moves that deserve some attention — right after these five leftover thoughts about LeBron.
 
1. “So, Lebron’s basically admitting that he’s not Jordan.”
 
I’ve heard this argument a few times since the announcement, and while I wouldn’t put it that harshly, there’s something to it. At the very least, the move back to Cleveland marks a shift in LeBron’s priorities. His No. 1 goal is no longer to win as many titles as possible and catch up to other legends that he’ll forever be compared against. He just wants to bring that first title to Cleveland. So in that sense, yeah, it appears that he’s put “chasing Jordan” on the backburner. Maybe it’s a chase he no longer wants any part of. Maybe it’s not for him.
 
Last week, Gerald Wallace made headlines for “taking a shot” at LeBron at his Wallace’s summer camp: “Jordan never had an off night,” Wallace told the local FOX station at home in Alabama. “He found many ways to contribute to the team, and I’d say Kobe is pretty much the same. You can put LeBron in that category. I think what separates LeBron from Kobe and Michael Jordan right now is that he doesn’t have the attitude or fight that those guys had.”
 
Everyone freaked out, as if Wallace had said something horrible about LeBron’s mother, but there’s a lot of truth to what he said. Even if it’s all true, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
 
Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan are maniacs. That attitude and that fight that Wallace referenced did great things on the court, but off the court it seems like hell. For all they’ve accomplished, for all the money they have, do Kobe and Jordan strike you as particularly happy people? These guys are tortured. Jordan couldn’t even enjoy his Hall of Fame induction.
 
When he first came into the league, we all wondered if LeBron had that in him, and not-so-secretly-hoped that he did. But if this latest decision means that he doesn’t, I won’t hold it against him.
 
2. LeBron will wear No. 32 in Cleveland, and I’m not sure how to feel about that. On one hand, three numbers is too many for player of his stature. On the other, I understand why he didn’t go back to 23 — it’s hard to distance yourself from Jordan while wearing the number he made famous. And at the same time, he’s probably looking for a totally fresh start in Cleveland and wants to leave every semblance of Miami LeBron (including the number) back in South Beach.
 
But No. 32? I don’t know. It’s been done too many other times.
 
I would have gone with No. 1
 
3. There are a lot of people who will continue to hate on LeBron regardless of anything, and those people have latched on to his “two-year deal” as a sign that his essay was total crap and he’ll just go through the same free agency dance again in 2016. That said, maybe I’m naïve. Who knows? Things can happen. Maybe Kyrie Irving tears his ACL, or Wiggins never quite figures it out, or Dan Gilbert starts rubbing him the wrong way. Maybe June 2016 rolls around and we start hearing whispers, and then rumors and then #WOJBOMB.  
 
But come on. There’s no way.
 
The No. 32 Cavs jersey will be the last that LeBron wears.
 
4. If I’m Cleveland, I trade Wiggins for Kevin Love. I do it because LeBron will be 30 in December, and has averaged more than 37 minutes a game every year since he was 19. This is his prime and it doesn’t last forever. Regardless of the tempting potential of Irving, James and Wiggins making sweet music all over the court for years to come — Kevin Love is already Kevin Love. He’s the superstar you need right now.
 
5. LeBron should write an essay every summer. Just to catch us up on how he’s feeling . . . his hopes and dreams . . . whether he still keeps in touch with the guys from Miami. They can put it on screen like a classic video essay from Dick Enberg. And then you can throw your TV out the window.
 
And now that your TV’s gone we can move on to those other big free agents. Four of them:
 
1. Chris Bosh re-signed with the Heat for five years/$118M: After LeBron’s decision, the assumption was that Bosh would sign with the Rockets, and Miami would become what became of Cleveland the last time LeBron made a decision. But then Bosh flipped the script. Why? I’m sure Pat Riley sold him on being the man — and I’m sure the $118 helped. Either way, Miami survived. After Bosh, they signed Luol Deng, they re-signed Mario Chalmers and Chris Anderson. They already drafted Shabazz Napier, and signed Josh McRoberts and what’s left of Danny Granger. They’ll find a way to bring back Dwyane Wade. Bottom line: Miami isn’t the same Miami, but they’re still pretty good. They’re still a playoff team. And Cavs-Heat might already be the best rivalry in the East.
 
2. Carmelo re-signed with the Knicks for five years/somewhere between $122M-$129M: “This weekend we’ll find out whether Carmelo cares more about money or winning?”
 
A cab driver said that to me on Friday night and at the time I agreed. At the time, I was also pretty confident that Carmelo would jump ship, join Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah and turn the Bulls into the best team in the Eastern Conference.
 
But now that he’s back in New York — I don’t know. It’s his hometown. He loves playing there. His wife really loves living there. You can’t blame a guy for wanting to believe in Phil Jackson. And more money is more money.
 
But Carmelo in Chicago would have been a lot fun, and might have finally put the Bulls — and Anthony — over the top.
 
3. Pau Gasol signs with the Bulls for three years/$22M: Poor Chicago. Losing out on yet another big free agent — their 5,000th strikeout since Jordan walked away the second time.
 
Gasol isn’t a terribly bad consolation prize after missing out on Melo. The big man still has some good basketball left in him; he brings a great personality and loads of playoff experience. Imagine the passing that will go on between Gasol and Noah? Two seven-foot beauties.
 
But Gasol isn’t enough. Not compared to the Bulls with Melo and not compared to the other NBA title contenders. Now, Chicago has everything riding on Derrick Rose’s health and that’s the definition of uneasy.
 
4. Chandler Parsons signs with the Mavericks for three years/$43M: When Lebron announced his intentions, the Rockets were ready to hit the ground running with a starting five of Patrick Beverley, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Chris Bosh and Dwight Howard.
 
Then Bosh called an audible, the Rockets didn’t match Dallas’ offer to Parsons and now Houston has a problem.
 
Although from this seat it’s hard to feel too bad for a team with a Harden/Howard foundation.
 
And from this seat, I haven’t even mentioned the Celtics yet. That’s because the Celtics sat out the biggest weekend of the NBA offseason. And that’s not a criticism, as much as an acceptance of reality — that it’s looking more and more like the fireworks are postponed until 2015 and next year will be very similar to last year.
 
But whatever, let’s finish with three quick thoughts on the Celtics
 
1. I tweeted this when the Pierce-to-Washington news broke, but the worst part about Pierce going to the Wizards is that now the Celtics can’t trade Jeff Green to the Wizards. Up until that point, especially after Trevor Ariza signed with Houston, the Wizards were in desperate need of another veteran small forward. A scorer. Especially someone like Green, who’s still young and athletic enough to keep pace with John Wall and Beal; who grew up in Maryland, played college ball at Georgetown and has always thrived back home in the DC area.
 
2. The latest Rondo rumor has him going to Houston for . . . I don’t even know because Houston doesn’t have anything to really give Boston. Not for a player like Rondo. The rumor last season was that the Celtics would only even consider that deal with Houston if Parsons was involved. The Celtics also reportedly had interest in Omar Asik. But now both those guys are gone, the Rockets have some issues and not nearly enough assets to bring in Rondo to save the day.
 
3. So, at this point, my best guess is that the Celtics plan to go after Kevin Love until there’s no more Kevin Love to go after. Once he’s off the market (and if he doesn’t end up in Boston), the plan is to take step back and go into the season with the team as it is. See how everything looks. How players have improved. Whether certain players can co-exist. In the meantime, keep listening to offers for Rondo in the event that the perfect deal comes along; keep hold of all major assets, draft picks and flexibility in the event that another player like Love, if not Love himself becomes available. Just stay calm and ride it out.
 
It’s a waiting game, and it might take longer than we think or want, but the Celtics are in a position to cash in when the moment arrives.
 
Follow me on Twitter: @rich_levine