x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

League that is open all hours

In the off-season, the NBA is still on, and the player carousel has already started, even without Dwight Howard, writes Mike Tierney.

Dwight Howard is hoping to leave the Orlando Magic and move to Brooklyn and the New York Mets.
Dwight Howard is hoping to leave the Orlando Magic and move to Brooklyn and the New York Mets.

The NBA operates by a weird calendar. Teams slog through an interminable season, early October (counting pre-season games) to late June, that ends with a confetti drop at the finals. An exhausted fan's natural instinct then is to sink into hibernation.

Wait, it is only nap time.

Before the bin be swept up and recycled, the draft is upon us. A player can be fitted for a championship ring while wondering if the unproven first-round pick will swipe his roster spot.

Do not pull those shades down, lest we miss the mystery theatre that is the beginning of free agency.

For the first 10 days of July, just about every team discussed with just about every other team what it would take to obtain or unload just about every player. There was a time when certain stars were considered untouchable. Nowadays, if there is something untouchable, it is a dirty sweat sock or is named LeBron.

The process comes with its own insider lingo, carrying definitions not found in a dictionary. Restricted free agent, unrestricted free agent, midlevel exception, opt in, opt out, luxury tax, amnesty, salary cap, sign-and-trade. (But no cap-and-trade, yet.)

Transactions could not be approved before the 11th because league offices shut down for an extended Fourth of July hiatus. Teams were prohibited from addressing negotiations, fruitful or not, with the media.

Agents generally abided by the policy, as did most players. As a result, word would get out anonymously in news reports, with information attributed to "sources".

Violators would risk generating a story that would go, "The NBA intends to fine two general managers for leaking specifics of a trade, sources said."

Other than "sources said," the most oft-repeated two words in reports were "Dwight Howard." He could have saved everyone considerable angst by opting out of his final year with the Magic and become an unrestricted free agent.

In a moment of temporary insanity, the self-proclaimed Superman opted in with Orlando. Instead of basking in freedom, Howard became stuck at a place where he has outworn his welcome. No amount of super powers has been able to break the bonds of his contract.

Howard submitted to the Magic a wish list of teams he approved for trade. Though speculation on the list was all over the map (US, not Canada), there was consensus on the top line. To which casual NBA devotees said, "Brooklyn has an NBA team?"

Yes, when we were not looking, the Nets fled New Jersey, as most New Jersey-ites ultimately do, and relocated in the New York City borough.

Orlando and Brooklyn discussed an array of deals for Howard, ranging from a straight swap to a four-team arrangement. Why four teams? Salary cap, luxury tax, midlevel exception and who knows what else prevent the uncomplicated trades of our youth. At one point, the Nets were packaging five players.

Though the unresolved talks involved Howard held up other player movement, according to sources, some went through, as we learnt Wednesday when the veil of secrecy was lifted.

The Hawks found a taker in the Nets for Joe Johnson, thought to be an Atlantan until death do them part because of his onerous contract.

In Boston, the Big Three is no more as three-point shooter extraordinaire Ray Allen took his talons to South Beach. Miami also added Rashard Lewis as Heat president Pat Riley avoided being labelled Stand Pat.

Jason Kidd fled Dallas to join the Knicks, saying he wanted to play for a contender. Which suggests senility can afflict even 39-year-olds.

Steve Nash skipped out on the Suns to become a Laker, expressing a desire to be close to ... Kobe Bryant? No, his children, who reside with Nash's ex-wife in Phoenix. The one team that Nash recently said he could not imagine playing for, citing its hated rivalry with the Suns? That would be Los Angeles.

Deron Williams stayed put, re-upping with the Nets by signing an electronically transmitted contract on his iPad. With the click of a button, he could have read all about it.

Nearly every transaction prompted a question in affected cities: "Does this help or hurt our chances of acquiring Howard?" The primary teams in play for him, besides Brooklyn, have been Dallas, Atlanta, LA and LA (Lakers and Clippers). Also, Houston, which is wooing Jeremy Lin, who evidently feels disrespected by the Knicks. An NBA nobody a year ago considers himself disrespected? That truly is Linsanity.

Once Howard finds a new home, the craziness will wind down. It must. Tip-off for another season is three months away, according to sources.

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