What: General managers assist fellow GMs, including some who were former teammates or colleagues, with unbalanced trades.
Why: Well, even the most robotic player can feel a tug at his heart when a former team, one with whom he spent his entire playing career, succeeds — especially when it isn’t at the expense of the team he know manages. Conspiracy theorists argue that the Timberwolves’ Kevin McHale sent the Celtics on their historic return to prominence by trading Kevin Garnett to Boston’s Danny Ainge, McHale’s teammate for 7½ years and two championships in Boston.
How: The NBA has a certain set of rules in place regarding trades, most notably requiring the salaries to approximately match. What the league doesn’t have in place is a rule about common sense. For example, there is nothing to stop the Hornets from trading Chris Paul, David West and Morris Peterson to Cleveland for Ben Wallace. As the flurry of multi-player deals at this year’s deadline proved, it isn’t difficult to push through trades.
Case for: Two major trades in this season alone: Garnett to the Celtics, and the Grizzlies trading Pau Gasol to the Lakers, who are 34-8 (a 66-win pace) with Gasol in the lineup and overcame the season-ending injury to center Andrew Bynum. Now 12-3 in the postseason, the Lakers with Gasol are also the favorites to win the title. In return for its all-star, Memphis received only draft picks and prospects — not a single current rotation player.
Case against: These trades aren’t really that bad. The Timberwolves, who were no longer winning with Garnett, picked up a centerpiece frontline player in 23-year-old Al Jefferson, who averaged 21.0 points and 11.1 rebounds in his first season in Minnesota. Odds are Jefferson will be putting up those numbers long after Garnett is retired. For the Grizzlies, in addition to the two first-round picks, they also picked up Javaris Crittenton, a 6-foot-5 point guard who is only 20 years old and has star potential; Marc Gasol, Pau’s younger brother; and Kwame Brown’s expiring $9 million contract.
Bottom line: Teams so close like the Lakers and Celtics would always sacrifice a bit of the future for a shot at the title now. So, the immediate evaluations tend to be favorable. Trades cannot properly and fully be evaluated until all the careers have been played out. For now, and the next few years, the Lakers and Celtics, will come out on top. But did the Timberwolves and Grizzles get better down the road? That remains to be seen.
The real question though is whether these trades were the result of friendly dealings between teams (former executive Jerry West has ties to both the Lakers and Grizzlies). That notion, in the words of Pat Williams, senior vice president of the Orlando Magic, is “total garbage. You may be talking to your better friends a lot more, but at the end of the day you’re not making deals just because you’re friends.”
Given how often players, coaches and front-office personnel change teams as well as come and go in the NBA, along with the tangible benefits of not keeping quiet, it is highly unlikely that there are true conspiracies, which are defined as secret plots that involve unlawful or wrongful acts. If done at all, it is more likely for an individual to act alone for personal gain (e.g., a referee, such as Donaghy). Ultimately, however, it can be enjoyable to consider the possibilities.
Even so, the words of former NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik, who served in that role for 22 years and oversaw numerous drafts and draft lotteries, still ring true.
“If you subscribe to a conspiracy theory, then you have to remember to ignore the results when they don’t fit your theory.”
PBT: The Pacers defeated the Heat 97-93 in Game 2 to even the series at 1-1, which now shifts to Indiana.
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