Finally, after months of back and forth, the worst PR trainwreck in NBA history (this made LeBron‘s 2010 summer look like a day spent rebuilding after Katrina) is now over. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports confirmed this morning on Twitter the call with the league office is over, the trade was phoned in, and Dwight Howard is now officially a Los Angeles Laker. Howard is going to the Lakers, the team we’ve been saying would get him all along, and we have ourselves one of the most star-packed trades of the past few years to get through the most boring part of the NBA year (August).
Kobe Bryant is happy. We haven’t heard from Howard, but he has to be happy. Everyone in California has to be happy. Even Philly and Denver fans have to be saying, “Well, we might’ve just given the Lakers a championship, but at least we went from first-round fodder to a possible second-round exit…”
With so much talent in one deal, the ramifications will be felt all over the league this season. But for now, I’ll point out the five who are the biggest losers…
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5. SMALL MARKET TEAMS
Um, so what exactly was the point of this summer’s lockout? The payroll of the Lakers is now sitting just below $100 million, the Yankees of the NBA. Their luxury tax penalties are going to make Antonio Cromartie‘s child support bill look like tip money. What do you do if you’re fans of the Bobcats, Warriors, Jazz, Magic, Kings and any other less-than-stellar teams? Shit, what do you do if you’re the Nuggets, Blazers, Hawks or Mavs? Those are all very good teams, but now thanks to the offseason moves of the past three summers, the rich have gotten obscenely rich, like Rick Ross buying an entire fleet of yachts, and then being given his own personal island in the Pacific Ocean on top of that just because some diplomat loves “Hold Me Back.” We can predict pretty accurately that the NBA championship parade will be in one of three places next year: L.A., South Beach or Oklahoma City.
Basically, if you thought last season’s regular season didn’t matter, wait until this year.
As far as small market teams, the only defense anyone has for the system is to look at Oklahoma City and San Antonio. They’ve done it. They also got extremely lucky by being in the position to draft cornerstones like Tim Duncan and Kevin Durant. Drafting a double whammy like that – getting a true super-duper star that doesn’t care about defecting to a massive media market after his first deal – almost never happens. Take a team like the Bucks. They can’t bottom out or their arena will feel like a funeral home. They can’t get any marquee free agents to go there. They can’t rig the draft lottery because David Stern doesn’t care about a place like Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They’re stuck in purgatory as a 30-45 win team. When your big dilemma as an organization is whether you can convince Brandon Jennings to hang around, then you know you’re struggling.
But hey, at least they all get to fight over those extra luxury tax dollars, right?
4. ARRON AFFLALO
Afflalo used to be one of my favorite players, and out of last summer’s weak free agent class, I thought he was one of the most important players available. He can defend the opposing team’s best scorer, and can be an absolutely killer from deep. He works hard, and doesn’t cause problems either. Basically, he’s the perfect third or fourth banana on a great team.
Then Denver swooped in and re-signed the man for $43 million over five years. From there, it all fell apart. Afflalo started trying to take people off the dribble, saw his shooting percentages (from 50/42/85 to 47/40/80) drop across the board and his turnovers go up.
But mostly importantly, check out these numbers from ESPN Stats & Info: The Nuggets, a team with a seemingly unlimited stable of athletic talent, finished last season giving up the fifth-most points per play in the NBA. And of all the players in the league to defend at least 500 plays, Afflalo was DEAD LAST in defensive efficiency (To contrast that, Andre Iguodala was No. 11 in the NBA. Think the Nuggets aren’t feeling good about themselves this morning?).
Now, Afflalo is turning 27 years old in a little over two months, and he’s playing for a team stuck in quicksand. His defense won’t matter when they’re losing 60 games a year, so he’ll stop playing it. His fantastic spot-up shooting will happen less often because Orlando won’t have anyone to draw double-teams, and it’ll force the former UCLA standout to do more of what made him more inefficient last season. Afflalo was meant to be one of the best role players in the NBA. Now, he’ll spend the prime of his career as one of the worst go-to guys.