Above Average Thoughts From An Average Guy
With all the talk of conspiracies and rigged lotteries, it doesn’t change the fact that star Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis will likely be a New Orleans Hornet. So what does that mean for the National Player of the Year, the league, and NBA fans in general? Two simple words:
Over the past few years, the Hornets have been the NBA’s curse that keeps on taking. Their move from Charlotte in the first place meant that nonstarter of a basketball city had to get a consolation prize via the moribund Bobcats franchise. But the Hornets move hasn’t exactly provided a jolt of enthusiasm for that franchise either. They perennially hover in the bottom half of the league in attendance, finishing 26th in 2011, an astonishing figure considering they were a playoff team that had a compelling superstar in Chris Paul. Attendance barely budged this year, which should come as no surprise since they traditionally finish somewhere in the low-20 range. They’ve only cracked the top 15 in the league in attendance twice, with their highest finish coming in 2006 when they ranked 11th, which is of course the season they played most of their games in Oklahoma City following Hurricane Katrina. Their successful tenure in the Sooner State was used as evidence that Oklahoma City was a viable destination for Midwestern basketball and served as the catalyst for the Sonics being ripped out from their rightful Seattle home by Oklahoma robber baron Clay Bennett.
The only silver lining from the New Orleans debacle seemed to be that with the Saints signing a new lease to stay in the Superdome through at least the 2025 season, the NBA could pull the plug on the Hornets fiasco without devastating a rebuilding city and help Seattle fill their basketball void. But oddly enough, the league went to unprecedented levels to insure that basketball never left New Orleans. When financial struggles led owner George Shinn to put the team on the market with no buyers, the league made the remarkable move of stepping in to purchase the team for $318 million and assume control of ownership. It was a role they failed to abdicate for two years until Saints owner Tom Benson recently needed a distraction from Bountygate purchased the team.
This laughable-if-it-weren’t-so-frightening conflict of interest hit its nadir last December, when star point guard Chris Paul informed the team he would not sign an extension, leading general manager Dell Demps to explore trade options. He eventually worked out a fair three-way deal that would’ve sent Paul alongside Kobe Bryant with the Lakers and moved Pau Gasol to the Rockets; the Hornets would’ve landed a few proven assets such as Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Lamar Odom, and Goran Dragic, plus a first-round pick. But in one of the league’s great oversteps of power, commissioner David Stern vetoed the blockbuster trade involving, not surprisingly, the one team the NBA controlled. Stern’s explanation was dumbfounding in its transparently shameless bullshit:
“In the case of the trade proposal that was made to the Hornets for Chris Paul, we decided, free from the influence of other NBA owners, that the team was better served with Chris in a Hornets uniform than by the outcome of the terms of that trade.”
(Yes, “free from the influence of other NBA owners,” even though Yahoo Sports published an e-mail from querulous, petulant Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who called the trade a “travesty” and said the deal should be voted upon by the Hornets’ 29 owners. Get it, since all the other owners control a stake in the Hornets? Good ole Danny boy being his Comic Sansing self.)
In the aftermath of this PR fiasco, a “better” trade was arranged shortly thereafter, sending Paul to the Lakers’ in-arena rivals the Clippers for a package highlighted by Eric Gordon and some random detritus; Gordon played in a whopping total of nine games with the Hornets on their way to a 21-win season. The Lakers were bounced from the playoffs in the second round this year, robbing Kobe Bryant of the chance to match Michael Jordan with a sixth championship ring. Not surprisingly, one of the Lakers’ biggest weaknesses was the point guard position. Meanwhile, the Clippers advanced to the second round of the playoffs for only the second time in the franchise’s history since moving to L.A. As it turned out, the New Orleans franchise being “better served with Chris in a Hornets uniform” irrevocably altered the Western Conference landscape.
Speaking from a first-hand point of view, I had the privilege of spending three days in the fine city of New Orleans last summer. I tried to soak in as much of the area as I could and explore all the ins and outs. As a sports fan, I left with one enduring observation: This is Saints Country. Period. I would say that the amount of Saints gear I witnessed versus the amount of Hornets gear I witnessed was a ratio of 500-to-1, literally. I saw as many paeans to Saints tackle Jermon Bushrod as I did CP3. I’m fully convinced that town would trade the rights to Anthony Davis in a heartbeat if it meant reducing Sean Payton’s suspension by four games. If the Hornets really meant something to the city, they had a funny way of showing it.
It’s why the cries of “Conspiracy!” resonated so much when Adam Silver revealed the Hornets won the draft lottery last night. Is it really that hard to believe the league took one final desperate step in going out of their way to prop up this lost cause New Orleans experiment rather than conceding defeat?
The 6-foot 10-inch Davis, affectionately known as The Unibrow, is a once-in-a-lifetime talent, making it a shame he’s being sent to a market and organization that have no track record to assure us that his talent will be successfully utilized. At least when the league purportedly rigged the lottery in 1985 with Patrick Ewing, it sent him to New York. Davis is about to wallow in a morass of irrelevance. And he can ask the erstwhile Hornet Paul: Don’t count on a trade to the Lakers to bail you out.