Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Welcome back to Dunkyland!

When I got the phone call, I was sure that someone was just having some fun at my expense. "Pau Gasol traded to the Los Angeles Lakers for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton and two 1st round draft picks." My initial reaction was "hey -- those salaries don't work" (yeah, I know it is pathetic that I know the salary structures for 80% of the teams in league -- quit laughing), but then I was told that they had resigned Aaron McKie to make it work. "Isn't he with the Sixers now?" Yet another sign of the ridiculousness of this trade. The Lakers traded the Sixers assistant coach to the Grizzlies. You cannot make stuff like that up.

For the next 48 hours I felt.........numb. I couldn't even begin to comprehend what had happened, so I couldn't feel anything about the trade. Well, other than a tremendous feeling of being cursed with the worst timing in the history of blogging. However, in the last two days, I have read two phenomenal viewpoints of the trade that have made me see just what this trade really means for Memphis. The first one was Pete Pranica's post on Grizz Blogs. The second was Hardwood Paroxysm's account of the trade. Slowly, I began to see the sun peeking through the clouds.

So now I am left at a crossroads. On the one hand, the Gasol trade has left the Grizzlies with cap space for the upcoming offseason (estimated $10-15 million), an additional draft pick for a great talent evaluator in Chris Wallace to use and a young player with good potential in Javaris Crittenton. They will be able to rebuild this team from the ground up, using Mike Conley and Rudy Gay as the foundation, with Darko Milicic and Crittenton as key players. Then you factor in two more young players with potential in the draft this summer and the talent level of this team going forward should increase dramatically.

It sounds like they won't use their cap space this offseason, given that this isn't a particularly enticing unrestricted free agent crop to pair with a group of young athletic players, preferring to roll it over to the 2009 offseason, where there are a lot of attractive FA's of the "right age". Factor in another 18 months of growth/maturity for Conley/Gay/Darko and this team could improve by leaps and bounds. So there is reason to have hope for the future of this franchise, including a return to the postseason as soon as the 2009/10 season.

On the other hand, this move was obviously business first, basketball a distant second. Even though it is mostly being reported that Chris Wallace pitched the idea to owner Michael Heisley, this one has Heisley grimy little fingerprints all over it. Wallace has been in print and on the radio several times this season saying that he did not want an expiring contract to be the central piece in return for either Gasol or Mike Miller in a trade. Lo and behold, what did he say about the acquisition of Kwame Brown? "He was the biggest expiring deal we could get." Now, I'm familiar with GM speak and know it when I see it. This 180 degree turnaround did not seem like a case of GM speak. Rather, it seems more likely that it was a directive from Heisley to Wallace -- not the other way around.

If that is the case, then this trade was a salary dump, plain and simple. If this is nothing more than a way to lower the outstanding contracts on the team to make it easier for Heisley to either sell the team to an outside group or to force the local group of minority owners to meet his asking price, then Memphis fans have been duped and taken advantage of as pawns. Pawns who shelled out money for a team that they expected to be competitive this year, even if they weren't expecting a return to the playoffs. Now they get to watch a team that has 13 wins so far and probably won't match last year's total of 22 victories. Not only is that a hard pill to swallow, it is an even harder sell for the sales/marketing staff. As Geoff Calkins pointed out in his column Saturday, can you imagine what that sales call will be like? It won't be pretty, I can assure you. This team didn't draw well when they were making the postseason and actively trying to get better. How low will attendance drop now that the rest of this season is a foregone conclusion and next year won't be much better? When does the attendace clause of the team's lease actually go into effect? (Speaking of attendance, Mark Cuban says get off your butt and do something if your attendance sucks.)

So while I would love to go along with the idea that this was a move made with the team's best interests in mind, if I have learned one thing in life, it is that rich, powerful people usually get what they want. Michael Heisley is a billionaire, so he gets what he wants and then takes the rest. If the team resurrects itself over the next two or three seasons, then I'll accept that Heisley is not, in fact, the Anti-Christ. If he uses this move as leverage to sell the team to a group like the Brian Davis-led flunkies who only have enough money to buy the team and nothing more, then I'm starting a blog dedicated to trashing Heisley. Either way, only time will tell what is to come for this team.

Welcome back to Dunkyland!

BallHype: hype it up!

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