NBA fans always want their teams to get better and front offices, at least the competently run ones, are always in search of ways to improve the rosters of their ball clubs. Over the past decade-plus, free agency has become the most immediate way for a franchise to elevate themselves to the upper echelons of contending teams.
The other way is via player swaps, also known as trades. We have seen over the course of the history of the NBA that the right trades have altered the course of players, teams and even league history. Suppose the Lakers never trade Don Ford and the 22nd pick in the draft in the 79-80 season for Butch Lee and a future fiirst round draft pick in 1982. That pick acquired pick was used to draft none other than “Big Game” James Worthy, who enjoyed a 12-year Hall of Fame career that included 7 All-Star appearances and helping the Lakes to hoist three Larry O’Brien trophies. Where might the Lakers and the NBA ended up if that trade is never made. Some of you may not be aware that in the 1980’s the NBA was not the financial juggernaut is is today. The NBA Finals were not shown live , but on taped delay. If James Worthy ends up in Cleveland , ”Showime”as we know does not happen and there is the possibility the NBA is a very different league today.
If the Bulls did not trade Olden Polynice for Scottie Pippen at the ‘87 draft does Scottie become the all-timer that we know him as today? Even more important do the Chicago Bulls win six titles in the 1990’s and even from a wider perspective, does the global explosion of basketball and the NBA still happen?
The rhetoric and talking points of so many fans and even some in the sports media, makes it clear that many of them have no idea how trades works. Let us take the most talked about and excessively maligned player in the NBA , Russell Westbrook, as a case study. It goes without saying that the marriage between Westbrook and the Lakers was doomed from the start. Once this became tacitly clear due to the level of Westbrook’s , the glaring lack of cohesiveness between the three, and the team’s overall struggles, fans and media began their ”blame Russ for everything campaign”, laying the foundation for the rail on which they hoped to run Westbrook out of town on. Trade scenarios were postulated by both ”fans” and sports media windbags alike and the criticism of Westbrook, and the clamour for a trade grew only louder with each turnover, errant jump shot and Laker defeat.
Laker fan, I get it – Russell Westbrook is terrible, he is washed up, he stinks- you have been saying that, rather vociferously, since early in the season and quite frankly his play this season have give those stances a degree of credence. Though NBA games have been played in a bubble, they are not done so in a vacuum, meaning the other 29 teams also have scouting departments and if what is claimed about Westbrook is truly the case, the other teams can see that as well. What this means is that some of the ridiculous trade scenarios are pipe dreams at best. For instance I heard many times suggested on these well-poisoning sports talk shows was a Dame for Russ swap. Now the lunacy of Portland’s recent moves notwithstanding, I would like to think even their front office is not dumb enough to make that deal.
As we stand on the precipice of the trade deadline, despite what the Lakers may be disseminating to the media, there is no doubt they are hard a working to find a new home for their ill-fitting point guard. If they haven’t already discovered, the market for Westbrook is not filled with many taker and the Lakers, have, in part, themselves to blame for that depressed demand.