The National Basketball Association has been slowly transitioning to a summer league over the past several seasons, given that the summer is when the player movement market transitions from discourse and rumor to money-burning fact.
Indeed, the dog days of December are being backed-and-filled with some discussion of what ails the Golden State Warriors, but far more where Anthony Davis’ next port of call will be.
Davis, the main reason the New Orleans Pelicans exist, had his name floated as the latest potential Los Angeles Laker last week, with Dave McMenamin of ESPN as the conduit by which the story lapped at LeBron James’ feet, thereby giving it chat show credence. It has since become the new topic du jour, supplanting Kevin Durant’s free agency and before that Kawhi Leonard’s post-Canadian future as the great debating points of a season that has not yet taken debating shape itself.
This isn’t surprising, given that Durant hasn’t played coy about his own situation in weeks now, and an untended flame tends to die out on his own. The great argument with Draymond Green seemed to sour Durant’s taste for the topic even though it ran very high for about two weeks, but it’s as if Durant’s future has been left to simmer while Davis’ is the new one on the boil.
It leads us to believe that the real joy in the NBA is in watching us all playing junior general manager, as though it really is the daily fantasy game that we are constantly told is the future of sports consumption in America. It is the jock world’s version of radio star Scoop Nisker’s old line, “If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own,” as it were.
That may be it, though the length of the NBA season also benefits this side market because there really are more games than people actually want to eat. Not every game can be indicative of future trends or team morbidity rates, and our hurry to get to the offseason speaks to that. Well, that and the fact that the Warriors even in current baffling state are still considered prohibitive favorites to win their third consecutive championship because, well, they’re the Warriors.
Maybe if Golden State was blowing through the NBA like it did in the earlier parts of the championship era rather than establishing itself as merely first among equals, there’d be more bitching about how they ruined basketball rather than how Anthony Davis could help ruin basketball in a different way. After all, nature abhors a vacuum, and if the Warriors aren’t interesting in the same way, there are always 29 other teams to chew on – or, more to the point, there is the Lakers.
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Los Angeles has been a poor team for more than half a decade now, and no reclamation project has invigorated the debate army quite like it. The theory has always been that the league is always better when the Lakers are good, even though the league has never been better or more lucrative than it has been in the past five years and the Lakers have barely been a part of it.
Put another way, you don’t hear any Anthony Davis stories that don’t have the Lakers in the lead. Even Golden State’s own curiosity about Davis, which is probably moot given its own pending decisions on Durant, Green and Klay Thompson, is judged to be irrelevant. The Warriors are being ceded the season, but they had their big offseason when they got Durant, and then doubled down with DeMarcus Cousins. They had their turn.
Now it is Anthony Davis’, and until the February trade deadline he will remain so. If he does get moved despite New Orleans’ insistence that he will not, the league changes. If he doesn’t, Durant will overtake him for the offseason chat league crown, because in the new NBA, the summer is when everything happens. All the 1,300 games are merely prelude to what everyone really wants.
The smell of burning money and the cheer of rampant speculation. Without it, we are stuck in the world of a reality we can’t tailor to our own prejudices, and who in their right mind wants that?