To the surprise of virtually no one except for those damn Hawks who almost pulled off a stunning 7-game upset in Round 1 of this year's NBA Finals, the Boston Celtics heaved their seventeenth piece of hardware this year behind the inspired play of their veteran triumvirate - KG, Jesus, and He Who Walks. As was so emphatically preminisced right here last year, GM Danny Ainge engineered this most magnificent NBA turnaround by counting on the fact that stragglers and other hangers-on would be willing to jump aboard the history train riding the coattails of this Big 3 to an NBA title. And what do you know? Posey and House signed for less than they could have got elsewhere, PJ Brown and Cassell come over for the vet min, et voila!, Beantown has all the veteran leadership and role playing grit to compete in playoff hip-to-bone competition, not to mention the moxie bestowed by the vets onto the lucky young ones Perkins, Rondo, and Big Baby Davis, who consistently played above their heads throughout the playoffs.
So Ainge's formulas have been proven correct - How long will it take for other GMs to adopt this approach? My guess - Not long. It may even perhaps have already happened what with B-Diddy and Agent Zero accepting less per-year dollars ostensibly to allow their teams to sign other top-tier talent and a pathetic hope to mimic our SC Boys' success (Note: Both Garnett and Ray Allen played their high school ball in the Cack and won titles there.) That's the impact from the player side. As Gilbert has already stated: "What can I do for my family with $127 million that I can't do with $111 million?" How gracious this new breed of NBA baller claims to be.
Now for the GMs to make their move. Will Chris Mullin or Kevin Pritchard decide to trade a handful of their young sought-afters for a veteran cog? How many other vets will be willing to sacrifice dollars for potential rings a la GP and the Mailman in 2004 or Posey/House/Cassell/Brown in 2008? Much like the seachange wrought by the Phoenix Suns small ball experiment (RIP 2004-2008), how will the Celtics' championship re-orient the perceived goals of GMs league-wide. Who's going to go for it and who's gonna stockpile talent? And how much would you pay for James Posey's unique combination of lock-down defensive versatility and sharpshooting?
The week ahead will answer many of these questions and we're sure to find more than a few surprises once this year's NBA free agent market opens on Wednesday. For now, the focus has been on teams trying to dump payroll in anticipation of luring LeBron in 2010. Though this is a lot less likely to happen than teams think (as Freedarko explains here), teams like the Knicks, Nets, and Heat, the cream of the Eastern Conference now turned into the grounds at the bottom of your coffee pot, are betting their whole franchise on the chance. That slim hope coupled with the floundering American economy's impact on a team's patriarch's willingness to pay the luxury tax should lead to some very interesting, if not historical, trades this year. Like the recent trades for Pau Gasol and Richard Jefferson, the newest trade paradigm seems totally unconcerned with the heretofore undisputed NBA trade maxim: equal value gets equal value. Now, it seems as if the league is operating on a "Big Star = Economic Relief = Very Small Chance at Salvation in 2010." It's as if the League is bequeathing the next two Finals series to the Lakers/Celtics, tanking their next two seasons like they were trying to move up in the Lottery.
This unique situation of players willing to play for less and GMs looking to pay less (as long as there is Hope) could lead to some interesting transactions. Here's a few thoughts: Brand and Davis could easily be switching teams - or not? Ron Artest - a bargain at $7.2m this year and an expiring contract to boot - will probably be moved for picks and cash (Kupchak: Hey! We don't have to trade equal value any more do you want a case of whiskey in that trade too, Maloofs? We'll even throw in Pau's 14-yr-old brother - we hear he just had his first growth spurt!). Corey Maggette will probably end up somewhere and it probably still won't matter and he'll probably average 20 ppg doing it. Some 2nd round pick (Mario Chalmers, Chris Douglas-Roberts, DeAndre Jordan, Bill Walker) is gonna make a lot of teams look really stupid and he'll be called this year's Carlos Boozer. James Posey will make a lot of money this year and it regrettably won't be with the Celtics, but chances are he'll earn another ring sometime in the near future for his clutch playoff services a la Robert Horry. More point guards (some of them not even really PGs) will be paid way too much money a la Chris Duhon. And somebody, somebody will try out Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis and the whole rest of the Ballhog Gang and decide that their team is the one that can get them to pass more often.
Bring on the Intrigue.