The NBA is a crazy business.
In this latest bit of next-level madness, I’m reminded of that scene from the classic film Trading Places, when Dan Aykroyd’s character is explaining Wall Street rules to Eddie Murphy:
“One minute, you’re up half-a-million in soybeans. And the next, boom, your kids don’t go to college and they’ve repossessed your Bentley.”
That can happen in the NBA, especially the Bentley part, although it would be considerably more than half-a-million dollars these days.
A couple years ago, the Houston Rockets were one of the favorites to win the NBA championship. They’ve been in the title conversation pretty much every season since they acquired James Harden in 2012. They had five 50-win seasons and two trips to the conference finals.
While it didn’t exactly happen overnight, it has flipped in a hurry. With Russell Westbrook and Harden, the Rockets were legitimately on the radar last season.
Now? After trading Westbrook in the offseason and dealing Harden to Brooklyn on Thursday, the Rockets are essentially starting over, although there’s a lot to like about the wealth of assets they acquired for Harden.
The Rockets took their shot at greatness. Give them credit for that. It didn’t work the way they’d hoped. But better to have swung and missed than to look at a third strike.
That said, what happened Wednesday and became official on Thursday is more proof that the NBA – even during a crazy, quarantined time – can produce quality entertainment off the court as well as on it. It ended up being a four-team trade with lots of really good players changing addresses. Victor Oladipo, Caris LeVert, Harden, Jarrett Allen (who is tearing up most centers in the Eastern Conference) — all of them have new teams to call home.
“You talk about a blockbuster! Right now, if you asked me without looking at the trade, I’d be able to tell you where Harden went, where Oladipo went, where LeVert went, but there’s about 15 draft picks involved and all kinds of stuff. I wouldn’t want to presume to try to handicap who got the better of the deal,” coach Rick Carlisle said after Thursday’s Mavericks practice.
“But I know that Houston is really well set up for the future with draft picks and they have a great young coach with Steven Silas. And Brooklyn basically went all in on James Harden and winning now. And I guess there’s two other teams involved.
“This kind of stuff is really fascinating for our fans. This really piques interest when you get blockbuster trades and marquee players involved. I think it’s great for the league. And beyond that, we’ll see.”
Carlisle, of course, is focused on the Mavericks and very little else these days. The coronavirus protocols are playing havoc with the team and a few others around the league, too.
But a big-time trade can often do wonders to take our minds off the real-world stuff that’s going on.
“That’s a heavy situation,” center Willie Cauley-Stein said. “For Brooklyn, they got a dude that’s arguably one of the best scorers added to another best scorer (Kevin Durant). It’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out. I think the whole world is ready to watch how it plays out.”
The Mavericks, of course, are no stranger to midseason blockbuster trades. They have pulled off such deals for Jason Kidd and, more recently, Kristaps Porzingis before the 2019 trade deadline.
They know how tough it can be to integrate new pieces into the culture that a team has. And sometimes, it’s a matter of retooling that culture. Either way, it can take time to make things work, even with the best of players.
The Rockets will be back, perhaps sooner than later. But they thought it best to cut their losses and move on from a good idea that just didn’t work out the way they hoped.
Porzingis lauded: Carlisle had good reviews the day after Kristaps Porzingis’ first game of the season.
The big man had 16 points and two blocks in 21 minutes and it was a solid first step, Carlisle said.
“I thought his first game was a very big success,” he said. “He got over 20 minutes, got a little bit of rhythm and conditioning. And he did some good things with his length around the rim.”
Carlisle stressed patience as Porzingis knocks off the rust.
“It’s a thing where it’s not all going to happen overnight in terms of getting back to his old self with the rhythm he wants to have,” he said.
Briefly: Rick Carlisle on Luka Dončić and his newfound attention to detail on defense: “Luka’s a winner. He understands that the defensive end is critical if you want to be a consistent, winning team. Shot-making is going to be fickle. But defense travels.” . . . The Mavericks play at Milwaukee on Friday to wrap up this two-game trip and Carlisle had a simple description of Bucks’ two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo: “The guy is an absolute monster.”