x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Old pals' act is changing the big picture in NBA

Never before in American sports have the parties been so unable, or unwilling, to keep their business private. A bullet-holed bucket has fewer leaks.

Carmelo Anthony is widely expected to be playing for the New York Knicks soon. Amy Sancetta / AP Photo
Carmelo Anthony is widely expected to be playing for the New York Knicks soon. Amy Sancetta / AP Photo

As Carmelo Anthony appears set to go to New York, Mike Tierney analyses a disturbing mega-team trend in the NBA

You will disagree with - maybe even mock - the following endorsement for the NBA's Most Valuable Player during the first half of the season.

You will properly point out that his team are on the fringe of play-offs. So, if you must, instead of MVP, make it Most Outstanding Performer, an honorific common in other sports.

Our nominee ranks sixth in league scoring. He is, remarkably for a small forward, 24th in rebounding. Move your finger down the list of names for a revealing statistic called plus-minus, the point differential that measures one's value to his team. Stop at Carmelo Anthony, 47th among 400-something players.

He has accomplished it all despite having awakened under a blanket of uncertainty each morning since training camp. And, with a garment bag packed so he can catch the next plane out of Denver to a new job.

The guy, apparently bound for New York in the type of trade that media cannot resist tagging as a blockbuster, was on the market longer than a mansion on a street full of foreclosed homes.

Give him credit. If we reported to work day after day, knowing we might be packing up our supplies and saying our goodbyes, would our performance suffer? Heck, yeah.

Give him sympathy? Double-heck, no. He played the system, manipulating NBA free agency that allows top-tier players to collude and establish super teams.

This drawn-out "Melo-drama" could have been avoided had he autographed the three-year, US$65 million (Dh238.7m) extension generously offered by the Nuggets last summer to better grease the skids for a trade.

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade figured it out. They roped in Chris Bosh as a co-conspirator, and formed an Ultimate Alliance in Miami, establishing the template for superstar pals beating the salary-cap system which is in place to seemingly prevent such partnerships.

When the Knicks acquired Amar'e Stoudamire this season, conditions flourished for another clustering of megastars.

At Anthony's wedding, the New Orleans Hornets' Chris Paul made a toast to them joining Stoudamire next season in New York to form a 2.0 version of the Heat. It was, in hindsight, clear-eyed prescience.

What we are seeing is the inevitable conclusion to walls being torn down between players on opposing teams as they become teammates without borders through sharing the same agent, appearing in advertisements for the same shoe and tweeting, facebooking, e-mailing and texting each other like best friends.

Player A finds himself deep into his career without a ring. He notices Player B in the same predicament and social-messages him to suggest teaming up when one or both gains free agency.

"I'm going into my ninth season. I have no time to waste right now," Anthony said recently. "I want to see the light at the end of the tunnel in my future. That light is a championship."

One uber-union, the Heat, we can live with. But what happens if the Miami model spreads to three or four franchises? The NBA would then drift so far away from the NFL ideal - that (almost) every team has a fighting chance for a title - the regular season would be rendered even less meaningful than it is now.

The tentative deal struck on Monday between Denver and New York ends (hopefully) a drawn out theatre of the absurd, which has been played out in the media for eight months in painful detail. Pity the Nets, who could not decide how badly they wanted Anthony. One day, they were a major player in negotiations. The next day, they were not. A few weeks later, they were, even as their owner said they were not.

Never before in American sports have the parties been so unable, or unwilling, to keep their business private. A bullet-holed bucket has fewer leaks.

Normally, trade talks are fun to follow. This one? File it away under Too Much Information.

Trade speculation hung uninvitingly over the All-Star weekend, normally a welcome diversion from the dreariness of the NBA in February. When someone asked, "Who's ahead?" they were not referring to the game but the Anthony sweepstakes.

His stubbornness all but froze other NBA business. So many general managers called the Nuggets' Anthony hotline - keep in mind that a third team had to be included in the eventual deal - that the transaction wire went silent. One player should never wield such power.

On Sunday, Anthony declared on television that he was still a Nugget, fully intending to play two nights later with them.

On Monday, while the Nuggets practised, he remained in Los Angeles with an excused team absence - to appear on the late-night talk show Conan. Gee, maybe he will report late to the Knicks while checking out the Hollywood Walk of Fame for space for his own star.

Today, the case made in this space for Anthony as MVP refers to his work between the lines, certainly not outside them.

On Thursday, the NBA trade deadline arrives. It cannot come soon enough.