If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the Summer of LeBron, it’s that too many fans/media treat athletes like fantasy-roster chips and only view things from a pure basketball standpoint.
Not once in all the anti-LeBron (and now anti-Chris Paul) arguments have I heard a critic acknowledge the biggest human element at play: That maybe LeBron just wanted to leave Cleveland, and didn’t want to live in New York, or live in Chicago, and just really wanted to relocate his life to Miami. No basketball. No business. No legacy. Just a man and his family’s life. How many of us have, for whatever personal reasons, just wanted to leave a job, a school, or a city? And we don’t have to justify it on paper. Breaking down an athlete’s future legacy and “He’ll never be The Man on a championship team” is an exercise that is 1,000 times more important to everybody who watches and chronicles the game than it is to the players who play the game. For us, it’s something to argue and make lists about. For them, it’s waking up every morning and living.
That’s why I had to applaud the Boston Celtics for signing Paul Pierce to a 4-year, $61 million contract earlier this summer. Is Pierce going to be producing like a $15 million player four years from now when he’s 36 years old? Most likely not. On paper, that’s too big of a contract for Pierce. But for the Celtics it was about taking care of their franchise guy. It was the right move to do. And it’s moves like that which make so many former and current Celtics praise the organization as a classy operation.
Which brings me to Michael Redd. As the Milwaukee Bucks make moves to capitalize on a 2010 playoff run, it’s pretty clear that Redd, not too long ago the team’s only thing resembling a star player, is not in the plans. After averaging 22.7 points per game in the ’07-08 season and winning an Olympic gold medal with Team USA, Redd’s career has taken a sharp turn towards retirement, with two major knee injuries limiting him to a total of 51 games over the last two seasons.
The latest reports out of Milwaukee are that Redd won’t be able to play again until at least February, by which time he’d have to attempt to earn minutes over John Salmons, Corey Maggette, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Carlos Delfino. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Garry D. Howard wrote about it yesterday:
With a humongous $18.3 million salary for next season and no spot in the lineup, Redd doesn’t have to rush back to training camp after tearing up his knee a second time last year in Los Angeles against the Lakers.
The Bucks, for their part, don’t want him to come back early for a couple of reasons.
One, if he’s injured again, he and whatever is left of his trade value would be a lost cause.
Second, you never want to handicap your coach on this level, and forcing Redd into the lineup would ruffle team chemistry, something the Bucks can’t afford this upcoming season.
It’s a fact Redd, 30, worked his tail off to return last season and had the right attitude even though his knee failed to hold up to the rigors of the NBA.
But don’t cry for Michael Redd.
When all is said and done, he will have been paid well over $100 million by Sen. Herb Kohl.
That is more than enough compensation — and most would say too much — for his albeit key contributions to a club that has been struggling mightily over the majority of his tenure in Milwaukee.
Yes, Redd averaged a very respectable 20.3 points per game during his 10-year career.
Yet he played in only 16 playoff games and suited up for just 51 of the last 164 regular-season games over the past two years.
And we can’t forget the excessive dribbling, the wave-at-your-man defense and his conspicuous absence last year as his teammates fought valiantly against Atlanta in the postseason.
We will, instead, remember his 11 40-plus scoring nights, including the 57 he dropped on the Utah Jazz in November 2006. We will remember that sweet shooting stroke, his lone all-star appearance and his Olympic gold medal.
Finally, we will remember his class and dignity.
Last year, progress was tangible. The Bradley Center was alive like a Jack Russell Terrier down the stretch and into that seven-game, first-round playoff battle with the Hawks.
Momentum must be kept intact. And the quickest way to kill it is to have Redd rejoin this team.
Watching Redd play his 18-game stint last season, I too felt he looked out of place on the new-look Bucks. It was like he was still convinced it was his team, even though all signs pointed to Brandon Jennings being the new headliner, with Andrew Bogut right alongside him. Maybe if Redd could have settled into a Ray Allen-in-Boston, third-option role — and of course if he didn’t get hurt again — it could have worked. But it’s hard to blame Redd for not immediately adjusting when he’d carried Milwaukee as the top dog for so long. Now he likely won’t get a chance to make the adjustment.
I know this sport is a business, but I hope there’s a way the Bucks can graciously find a way to end the Michael Redd era and not toss him out like an old pizza box. After all, he is the one guy who bridged the gap from the last really good Milwaukee team — the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals version — to this next really good team that will be led by Jennings and Bogut.
Yes, he’s been paid a lot of money, but that’s how the market works. It shouldn’t be held against him now. Hopefully the Bucks remember the human element of this game and do the right thing. Whatever that may be, if it’s trading him to a decent team, negotiating a reasonable buyout, or letting him stay with the team and seeing if he can contribute down the stretch during a playoff run. Just remember, he’s not a poker chip.