Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Separating the trades from the raids
By Bill Simmons
Editor's note: This column appears in the August 20 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
If you don't like your boss or neighbor, you can't swap him for someone else. If you're raising four kids and decide they're too much work, you can't exchange them for one exceptional prodigy. If you're struggling with college loans, you can't sell off your younger bro for two sibling draft picks and cash.
That's why we love sports trades. What other aspect of life offers such an immediate solution to a problem? Take my beloved Celtics, whose fans were wallowing in self-pity after the Oden/Durant lottery. Now we're dreaming about a 17th banner faster than you can say "rayallenandkg." Was it worth trading almost every asset we owned to attempt a championship run with a three-man team? I don't know, and frankly, I don't care. I feel like Corey Haim getting the call to do The Two Coreys. Really? I'm back on TV -- and you're paying me? I get to root for a contender again. That's all that matters.
There are two things I know about trades. The first is that GMs look out for themselves, their franchises and their fans, in that order. Fans always come third. Always. The second is that although dozens of trades are made each year, anyone who can't help himself can separate them into 13 categories:
1. Apples for Oranges. You have too many oranges, I have too many apples, so we swap an orange for an apple. It's a trade in its purest form. Naturally, these rarely happen.
2. All-Star Swaparoo. A high-powered variation of Apples for Oranges in which two stars need a change of scenery, so teams exchange them like buddies swapping disgruntled girlfriends. Before salary caps and skyrocketing salaries screwed up everything, Swaparoos like Bobby Bonds for Bobby Murcer or DJ for Paul Westphal were made more frequently. Now GMs face too much day-to-day scrutiny; if one star outperforms another, there's nowhere to hide. Who wants to take that chance?
3. Drunk Dealing. Once upon a time, after about 600 cocktails, the owners of the Red Sox and the Yankees agreed on a Ted Williams for Joe DiMaggio swap before thinking better of it. Nowadays, nobody drunk-deals except for fantasy owners -- and possibly Matt Millen. It's a shame. Every league should schedule its trade deadline around a mandatory Vegas golf outing so GMs could be worn down by daiquiris and the desert sun before quickly being ushered into a large room with an open bar. Wouldn't this spur more trading? I nominate the NHL to be the biology frog for this idea. In fact, I nominate the NHL to be the biology frog for every idea. We have a professional league toiling in a vacuum (or in this case, Versus). Let's use it to our advantage.
4. The Just for the Hell of It Special. Best described as "I'm bored, you're bored -- let's make a trade!" The ratio of the occurrence of this kind of trade in real life vs. in fantasy is about 1:10,000. I just swapped Jeremy Bonderman and Scott Proctor for Dice-K and Tim Wakefield. I wish there'd been a press conference afterward so I could have said, "I have no idea why I did this. Any questions?"
5. The Biopsy. Recognize symptoms, find tumor, cut out tumor. It doesn't matter what you get back. The important thing is you don't have cancer anymore. Or in the case of the 2007 Athletics, Milton Bradley.
6. The Foster Child. A distant cousin of the Biopsy, in which you acquire someone else's baggage in the hope that you can salvage him by placing him with a better "family." As the Al Davis era has shown, it's nice to take a chance on a few foster kids as long as you don't end up running a foster home.
7. The Salary Dump. The operative word, of course, is "dump," because that's what the team is dropping on its fans in an effort to save money. Of course, it's not as bad as ...
8. The Double Whammy. This is when a team compounds a mistake by wasting an asset to fix that mistake. Case in point: The Celtics acquired Raef LaFrentz's cap-crippling salary, spent three years watching him limp around, then wasted a lottery pick to dump him on Portland (who landed Brandon Roy for their trouble). That was awesome. Meanwhile, Isiah Thomas is working on a historic Triple Whammy. He assumed Penny Hardaway's gigantic contract in an ill-fated deal that bagged Stephon Marbury, then turned Penny into Steve Francis and now Francis into Zach Randolph. Problem is, if Randolph bombs in Manhattan, Isiah won't be around to attempt the never-before-achieved Quadruple.
9. The Emancipation. You know, when you free a long-suffering team star near the end of his career, usually so he can compete for a ring. Think Ray Bourque. This one is great for karmic purposes.
10. The Herschel Walker. Remember when the Cowboys famously soaked the Vikings for a potent package of youngsters and picks? We'll never see a contender overpay quite so badly again. But GMs still love multiplayer rebuilding trades because they can't be judged for years, and that buys them time, during which they keep getting paid. One funny side effect: A frustrated fan base bristles as its incompetent brain trust spins something like the KG trade without acknowledging the elephant in the room -- namely, that the same incompetent brain trust that drove KG away remains in charge of the post-KG rebuilding effort. Now, that's comedy. Well, unless you're a Wolves fan.
11. The Fire Sale. Team panics and deals an unhappy superstar in a buyer's market for 60 cents on the dollar. Fire Sales don't just backfire, they destroy fan morale once the departed star finds rejuvenation somewhere else (which he always does, by the way). Some recent personal research has revealed that of 10 famous NBA Fire Sales, eight flopped (Wilt, Wilt again, Kareem, Moses, Barkley, Vince, T-Mac and Shaq) and the other two are headed that way (Iverson and KG). If you're a GM hoping to get fired, make a Fire Sale trade or show up at a home game without your pants.
12. The Wes Unseld. Here's when a decent team mortgages its future in a misguided effort to contend, like when Unseld, Washington's GM, traded Rasheed for Rod Strickland and C-Webb for Mitch Richmond in the late 1990s. "Pulling an Unseld" means the future is now, which can be a major problem if your team isn't so good in the first place. In a related story, Wes isn't a GM anymore.
13. The All-in Trade. The single most ruinous trade in sports. Your average GM runs a team for five years, but your average fan supports a team for life. If the GM knows he's getting canned unless he takes a do-or-die risk, he's much more likely to push his entire stack of poker chips forward. And if it doesn't work? He walks away a loser and lands a TV gig, while the team's shell-shocked fans remain in a state of catatonia for the next five years.
I know what you're thinking. But look, I don't blame Danny Ainge for mortgaging everything on Ray and KG. If anything, I'm happy the crafty genius went all-in. He didn't have a choice. Because here's the single greatest thing about trades: You're always one deal away from making everything okay.
If only real life worked that way.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His book "Now I Can Die In Peace" is available in paperback.