To stand pat in tough times no easier than rolling the dice in good ones
It takes guts to do what Danny Ainge did as the NBA trade deadline approached Thursday. When you have a team everyone considers good enough to win the NBA title as constituted, there is enormous risk in trading a young big man with a well-earned reputation as one of the league’s most rugged interior defenders. That’s what Ainge did in a deal that sent Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City for Jeff Green.
It takes guts to do what Joe Dumars did, as well, as that same deadline approached. He stood pat. Not for lack of trying, the Pistons made no moves. And that’s no easier – with trades flying all around the league – when you’re the president of a franchise accustomed to long playoff runs, suddenly staring at the likelihood of a second consecutive season on the postseason sideline, than to roll the dice as Ainge did.
It takes guts to stand pat when there is a public clamor for action, when your team is openly frustrated by its own lack of success, when the losses mount and the unrest among fans still coming to The Palace swells proportionately.
Dumars said when the deadline came and went that there was no favorable deal to be done. Don’t confuse activity with progress. Not every deal produces a clear winner and a clear loser. To be sure, there are deals both sides wind up regretting. If it was a deal that gave him even a 51-49 chance to better the product, he would have done it.
The Pistons didn’t get any better on Thursday, but they didn’t get any worse, either. Look south to Cleveland and consider the Cavs. They made a bold move Wednesday, sending Mo Williams and Jamario Moon to the Clippers for Baron Davis and this year’s No. 1 pick, a certain lottery pick.
My hunch is that an overwhelming number of Pistons fans would have celebrated a similar deal, though the Pistons don’t have similar pieces. The closest thing to it would be Tayshaun Prince (like Moon, an expiring contract, though a considerably better player) and Rodney Stuckey.
But the Cavs now have Baron Davis and all that comes with him: a notoriously bad attitude when mired in a bad situation, and right now nobody’s situation is worse than Cleveland’s; and a contract that calls for him to make about $29 million over the next two seasons. If the lottery pick doesn’t yield a truly productive piece – and there is more skepticism about this draft class than the last several – they’re out more than just what Moon and Williams might have provided.
So go ahead and heap praise on Cavs owner Dan Gilbert for his willingness to spend money by absorbing Baron’s big contract. But a willingness to spend money, if it’s not combined with the self-discipline to spend it wisely, can backfire big-time on teams.
Ask the Knicks, only now digging out from the rubble of trades for the likes of Stephon Marbury. Having Davis on the payroll for the next two years will limit greatly what other moves the Cavs can make. And if the assumption of most proves correct about the new CBA lowering the salary cap, then Davis’ impact on the Cavs’ future flexibility will be even greater.
So, again, don’t confuse activity with progress. Don’t confuse inactivity with disinterest, or timidity, or regression. Not firing your gun today means bullets in the chamber for a time the hunting might prove more favorable.
Joe D’s peers weren’t calling him out of sympathy with his plight. NBA GMs smell blood in the water. They well know the situation with the Pistons – Joe D has said he has “parameters” that he must work within as a result of the pending sale of the franchise – and the calls he took were asking him to accept 50 or 60 cents on the dollar just to wipe a nickel or a dime from his books.
The fact the Pistons did nothing further unsettles Pistons Nation. It takes guts to be bold when you’re riding the surf’s crest. It takes just as much fortitude to resist acting from desperation when you’re drifting somewhere below the surface. Struggle too much against the current and you’ll find yourself settled into the muck at the bottom.