In my quest to ignore these godawful playoffs altogether, I present to you – without further adieu – more speculation!
As if this cluttered mass of moving pieces we’ve come to call “NBA free agency” couldn’t get any more chaotic, two major weekend headlines – one expected, one not so much – threw another wrench into the best laid plans of guys who never had set plans to begin. On Saturday, everyone’s favorite seven-foot, three-reigning German stuck it to his rich owner by declaring he’d opt out of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent come July 1. Will Dirk Nowitzki really leave Big D after 12 Cuban-coddled seasons, or is he just trying for a final fat paycheck before the owners lower the boom with next year’s Collective Bargaining Agreement? We’ll explore.
But first to Mike Brown, the freshly canned ex-coach of the Mighty Kingsmen. Reports of his imminent demise had been swirling around Cavs camp since that home meltdown in game 5 of the C’s series, so this doesn’t exactly come as a shocker. When LeBron came out a few days ago and flat denied any involvement in the Cleveland coaching situation, Cavs’ management evidently decided that its wishy-washy, will-he-or-won’t course with Brown wasn’t the best way to keep LeBron’s interest. After all, that’s the last thing the guys upstairs wanted to hear.
You mean he doesn’t care one way or the other? PANIC!
Sunday night’s league deadline forced the issue. Had the Cavs waited, they would’ve had to pay Brown’s $4.5 million 2010-2011 salary regardless… So this leaves us with the obvious question: did he deserve it? Did he deserve an unceremonious canning after 127 wins in two years, a run to the Finals and the highest winning percentage in team history?
Uh, yeah. Totally.
Doc Rivers disagrees. “Obviously, I was not thrilled to see it,” he told ESPN. “I wonder what you have to do to keep your job – back to back 60-win seasons.”
In Brown’s case, he had to win a championship, not an unfair request given his improved roster and LeBron at the helm. Perhaps the Celtic’s sudden resurgence put him in an unfair position – they were, by all accounts, the better team. But fact is, he’d done more with less in the past. Fact is, his crunch-time offense was just as frustratingly stagnant in year five as in year one. He wasn’t big on in-game adjustments – or adjustments in general – even though everybody and their senile grandmother knew that his team could run you out the building if he just pushed the tempo.
But no. Brown didn’t have the wherewithal to see that The Big Aristotle had since become the Big Man Tit. He refused to play LeBron at the 4 or go small with Hickson/Varejao. He fell in love with the LeBron-on-3. He pick-and-rolled his way to the foul line with a team that couldn’t make foul shots. And his vaunted defense – his calling card – made the scrappy Rajon Rondo look like the second coming of the Big O. In short, he had no answers.
Plus, Brown always gave the impression that he was less coach than James’ personal cheerleader, a perception that perhaps undermined his authority. His mini-tirade after the game 4 C’s loss, for instance, went over like a gym teacher threatening detention. Nobody listened. And when LeBron checked out right around the same time, Brown had no way of circling the wagons in win-one-for-the-gipper fashion. Devil’s advocate would suggest that a team with LeBron will always be LeBron’s team. Fair. But a guy like Phil Jackson or Larry Brown could certainly act a professorial co-pilot and would no doubt carry more weight in the locker room.
Player reaction was classic. “Do I think he deserved it? No,” Mo Williams told the Plain Dealer. “My question is: Who’s out there that’s better? He’s not a bad coach. To fire him, that’s making a big statement. After him, you have to get a Hall of Fame coach.”
Coach K already gave a big thumbs down. But Phil Jackson hasn’t. And John Calipari follows LeBron around like a lapdog.
Like everything else LeBron related, the coaching vacancy puts the Cavs in a hands-tied bind. They want to hire the coach LeBron wants, but could ultimately end up fielding advice from a guy they don’t retain. Meanwhile, a team like the Nets can preemptively throw absurd amounts of coin at the Phil Jacksons of the world with the added luxury of knowing they’re a potential destination for more than just LeBron. Advantage: Russian billionaires.
Let’s talk Germans.
Long pegged as a Dallas-lifer, Dirk Nowitzki puckered the rear of many a Cuban when he told “sources” he was all in for LeBron-‘O-Mania 2010. Translation: Dirk will opt out for more money… with the same team. It’s a matter of simple economics, really, and perhaps part leverage game as well.
Signing an extension both leaves money on the table and opens him up to retroactive salary cuts under a restructured Collective Bargaining Agreement. Under the current CBA, Dallas is restricted by the over-36 rule – Dirk is almost 32 – and thus can only offer three more years on top of next season’s $21.5 million. Opting out, on the other hand, still subjects Dirk to the age rule (he can’t sign anywhere for more than 4 years), but locks in salary terms of the current CBA and bumps a Dallas max deal up to 4-years, $96.2 million. Other teams can offer up to $93.1 million.
That “simple economics” part? I take it back.
Here’s the catch. Cuban insists that the two camps are still negotiating, which implies that Dallas is hesitant to offer max money. Dirk has suggested in the past that he would take less to build a better team, but has no assurances that Dallas can land another big name should he accept a lowball offer. Ideally for fans, Dirk will sign an extension, leaving the team cap space to convert Caron Butler and Erick Dampier’s expiring contract into Joe Johnson or… wait for it… King James.
I get all warm and fuzzy just thinking about it… Michael, meet Scottie.
Cuban recently told a local radio station that Dirk “isn’t going anywhere,” which I’m sure is the exact same thing he said about Steve Nash. Dirk would command max money on the open market. No doubt it. And The New York angle is especially enticing: what if LeBron or D-Wade needs a running mate? What if New York gets shut out altogether and wants to make Dirk the centerpiece before adding Carmelo in 2011-2012? Would he listen? How could he not?
What if he wants to reunite with Nash?
“PTI’s” Tony Kornheiser thinks Dirk would be the #3 free agent option this summer, and with due respect to Chris Bosh and his perennially underachieving Toronto Raptors, I agree 100 percent. He’s a 9-time all-star in his prime, a fiery competitor who always gives a crap, and a mortal lock for 25-8 and 75 games a year. Yes, he’s days short of 32. But have you ever blocked a fadeaway jumper from a 36-year-old 7-footer? Me neither.
Happy mercenary hunting.