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NBA Trade Deadline retrospective: Isn’t this supposed to be fun?

Why aren’t basketball players enjoying themselves?

Detroit Pistons v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The NBA trade deadline has come and gone and am I crazy or did not much happen, vis a vis this NBA season? The Raptors and Bucks and 76ers and Celtics are still the class of the East, with the Pacers and the Nets acting as spoilers and tough outs in the playoffs. Meanwhile, in the West, none of the top 7 seeds did much in trades, but the Clippers in the 8 seed traded away their best player, the Kings in the 9 seed made a scoring-over-defense trade by trading Iman Shumpert’s perimeter D for Harrison Barnes’s perimeter O, and the Lakers, those adorably spoiled Lakers, made a Cleveland Cavaliers trade by trading away cheap youth for a mediocre, outside-shooting vet. Did any trades really affect who’s in and who’s out of the playoffs, aside from the Clippers relinquishing their hold on the #8 seed?

The most significant, long-term trades occurred with teams that are out of the playoffs: the Knicks damned themselves by trading away Kristaps Porzingis for “cap space”; the Mavericks saved their future by trading for Kristaps; the Wizards saved their owner a little bit of money and their excellent, excellent, excellent GM a little bit of wiggle room; the Grizzlies officially ended Grit n’ Grind, and traded away Marc Gasol, one of their best players in franchise history; the Magic did Magic things that probably won’t have any significant impact on anyone, anywhere; the Pistons traded away all their small forwards so that they could have guardsGuardsGUARDS! surrounding their Best Player, Blake Griffin; and, who cares about the rest of these trashass teams. Somehow, the Minnesota TimberKATs didn’t trade any of their players. Um...why?

And, oh yeah, the New Orleans Pelicans told the Lakers, and LeBron, and Klutch Sports, and really the entire NBA to go suck an egg. Contracts are contracts. The fact that they’re willing to let Anthony Davis play the rest of this season is at once terrifyingly reckless and endearingly noble. Again, contracts are contracts.

NOLA did the rest of us a big, goddamn favor by refusing to acquiesce to the overrated Lakers and gift them another star. Respect isn’t given, it’s earned. Players damn well know going forward that the Pelicans ownership won’t just give in to a player’s demand. It’s funny, Lebron comes off of this fiasco looking like the loathed Big Guy while the billionaire who owns the Pelicans looks like the tough guy who refused to give up, even when cornered by the Big Boys. I suppose LeBron is bigger than the New Orleans Pelicans franchise, but the country isn’t in a forgiving mood towards wealthy people who demand more wealth from those beneath them.

Seriously, the best part about all of this Brow BS is that it embarrassed powerful people and good teams. Boston looks like a corporate raider who destroys small businesses and fires their loyal employees at the drop of a hat; the Lakers look completely incompetent, as does their partner LeBron/Klutch; Anthony Davis looks like a liar and a spoiled brat; the commissioner, Adam Silver, looks utterly powerless as he was scant seen nor heard during the entire Brow disaster, probably because he doesn’t want to piss off LeBron and the Lakers, to the detriment of, y’know, the rest of the goddamn league; and no one, anywhere, during any moment in human history, is happy with James Dolan. (“Cap space! Hooray! Now, the Knicks are sure to sign the best free agents! Just look at their FA history, and their history with elite players! It allllllllways works out. Remember when we signed Tim Hardaway, Jr. to that awesome contract that ended up netting us all this cap space?? Let’s throw a parade in Manhattan to celebrate our victory! Chant it with me! Cap space, cap space, cap space!” Here’s my prediction for next year’s Knicks: Boogie Cousins, Dennis Smith, Jr., a non-Zion Williamson rookie, Kevin Knox, and either Kevin Love or Blake Griffin. Zion in the Mecca makes all the sense in the world, until you consider the history of the Knicks, and the fact that the drafts aren’t as corrupt as they used to be.)

All in all, I don’t think a damn thing really changed, other than the Clippers saying Eff It, and trading Tobias Harris for TWO FIRST ROUND DRAFT PICKS (!)(for a player with an expiring contract they had no intention of resigning!)(and the Sixers didn’t even get a goddamn defensive guard back in the trade!!!)(!?!??!?!?!), and, lol ugh, “cap space.”

The only distinct, substantive change I noticed from this trade deadline is how much antipathy has arisen towards the Big Teams and the Big Players. It just doesn’t seem like any of the big boys are having fun. Kevin Durant doesn’t look like he’s having fun. Kyrie Irving and the Celtics don’t look like they’re having fun. The 76ers don’t look like they’re having fun, the Lakers sure as hell don’t look like they’re having fun.

Who the hell is having fun playing this orange-in-the-bucket game this season? Denver looks like they’re having fun, Sacramento does, too. Milwaukee, Indiana (despite losing ‘Dipo), Toronto (an enormous city but not really counted as a huge market by Americans because they’re in Canada), Brooklyn, Oklahoma City: these are the “second-tier-cities” that have basketball teams that are fun. Just compare their benches to the Lakers bench, where a lonely LeBron sits by himself at the end of the row, separated from the younguns by several empty chairs.

Basketball is supposed to be fun. The season is a grind for the players, but the fans don’t want to watch dour, depressed dudes complain about trivial matters, and they don’t want to hear owners complain about not having enough, or not getting enough, money. Fans really don’t want to see the NBA Aristocracy walk all over the NBA middle-class, because they get enough of that in the real world. The center of America is where the funnest ball is being played. Indiana had every reason in the world to give up on the season when Victor Oladipo got injured. Instead, God bless ‘em, they’re trying their damnedest to win games. Give me a Milwaukee-Indiana series, or a Sacramento-Portland series, any day of the week: at least those guys are likeable. At least those teams play with joy. At least those players aren’t threatening to leave town.

I suppose Kevin Durant and LeBron James and Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis have understandable grievances. But, no one wants to be dumped for the rich guy who lives in the gated community, y’know? LeBron, especially, acts like a politician who doesn’t understand why everyone’s pissed at him.

We fans keep getting told by the people in charge that “Sports Is A Business!” Well, I don’t know if you’ve read the papers recently, but folks aren’t too pleased with how business is run in America these days. The rich and the powerful keep getting richer and more powerful; distressed towns and cities keep bending over backwards to satisfy rich owners who threaten to move to another, “better” market; and, our goddamn ticket prices just keep going higher and higher and higher. You know what sucks? When a millionaire you’ve loved and watched since he was drafted declares that your hometown is shit. Thanks, Brow! Can’t wait to watch you play out the string for the rest of the season!

In The Fable of the Bees, Bernard Mandeville wrote, “Do we not owe the growth of wine to the dry, shabby, crooked vine?” Bernie, we do. But, there are some of us who are tired of being the shabby vine. Some of us need a goddamn drink.