When the Oklahoma Thunder traded NBA Sixth Man of The Year James Harden last weekend, many fans were shocked. How could the Thunder send away such an important player?
The answer is that economics have become increasingly important to NBA owners because the new collective bargaining agreement with the players includes harsh financial penalties for spending more than the salary cap.
Harden is the latest example of this reality. The Thunder have several huge contract extensions coming up, led by all-star Kevin Durant. Harden, they reason, was one more elite player than they can afford.
How could the New York Knicks send away Jeremy Lin after his spectacular play last season? Same reason.
The Lakers haven’t given up one of their superstars but their slow start this season is at least partially because they spent their allotted money on the first unit and have very little in reserve.
Injuries have kept the main guys out of practices and games, and as a result the starting five is not a cohesive unit yet. I think it will become cohesive and successful as time goes on.
“We need a little time,” says Coach Mike Brown.
It’s an 82-game season and getting off to a slow start can be overcome. The Miami Heat, last season’s NBA champion, were only 9-8 in their first 17 games a year ago.
But the Laker reserves are dreadful. After the Lakers took on the contracts of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash they couldn’t compete for the best available substitute players.
In the Lakers’ opening night 99-91 loss to the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center the Mavericks’ reserves outscored the Laker reserves, 37-17.
The Laker reserves didn’t do much on defense, either. The Mavericks were without superstar Dirk Nowitzki, who’s recovering from knee surgery, but they overcome an early eight-point deficit to dominate the second half. Reserve guard Vince Carter, a longtime productive NBA scorer, made some key shots.
Neither Laker starter Steve Nash nor his backup, Steve Blake, could slow down Darren Collison, who led the Mavericks with 127 points.
Collison, the former UCLA star, is the latest example of a small, swift point guard who gets inside the Lakers’ defense rather easily.
Remember when the Lakers had reserve guards who would increase the tempo and put a lot of pressure on an opponent? Well, they no longer have Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic or Shannon Brown.
Recognizing the lack of production likely to come from the second unit, Coach Mike Brown left either Pau Gasol or Howard in the game with four substitutes. At least that unit would have one scorer.
But the only second unit player who made an impression was Jordan Hill, who is overcoming a back injury and scrapping for rebounds.
Perhaps the Lakers can improve their second unit. Perhaps they can pick up a low budget small, speedy guard who gets released by another team. The Clippers have released Travis Leslie and he could help. That’s just me talking.
Laker fans are expecting a lot this season I think most problems can be solved, but I wonder if the reserves will be able to contribute what is necessary.