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Analyzing Trade Bait’s Psyche

“y do some players take it so personal when they get traded. SMDH.” 

This critical judgment originated in a mind, traveled through a pair of typing fingertips, and was released into the not-especially-exclusive world of Reggie Evans’ Twitter page roughly six hours after the offseason’s second Chris Paul to Los Angeles deal was shot dead by David Stern.

The rumors involving Paul’s possible movement began as positive rejuvenation for the league. For what felt like a quarter of all fanbases (sorry New Orleans) it was a fantastic distraction from the BRI/system issues nightmare. People began to focus on the game’s top point guard, where he’d be traded; which franchise would alter the fortune of its immediate future? It was the best of times…kinda.

Soon after the talks began, things grew ugly. Players thought to be the future cornerstones of their respective franchises were dangled in very public rumors, and what we learned about the fragility of more than one NBA superstar created polarizing reactions. On one side you have the cold, all-business-all-the-time words of Reggie Evans—a player who’s been traded three times (once for Jason Kapono)—and on the other,  real life human emotion.

In an interview with Jonathan Abrams earlier this year, Shane Battier revealed what people on the outside have suspected all along:

“Every player that gets traded, he may tell you otherwise, but your first thoughts are of rejection. You pour your heart and soul into a team and you’re traded to another one. Whenever you get traded, your first emotion is rejection. Why didn’t this team want me? Never mind that there’s another team that does want you and has given up something of value to get you. I think that’s just the human side of sports. That’s the initial reaction. If you’ve been traded and say otherwise, I think you’re lying.”

Paul wasn’t the only superstar leaving the pride of several colleagues incapacitated. Dwight Howard played the role of seven foot heartbreaker to a tee. Combined, the two have made almost every player in the NBA take a peak over his shoulder. Nobody’s safe when players of their caliber are on the market. Unfortunately for the league, and those who love it, all the rumors, speculation, and innocuous flirting mutated into a jumble of lies, disappointment, and accusations of collusion. Add that with the new Amnesty Provision and the financial flexibility it gives teams with deep pockets, and what you have is a blizzard of player movement.

Here’s a condensed, organized list of the biggest names who’ve either already moved, or come milliseconds from doing so. Each player is broken down in an appropriate category, accurately describing their reaction to either possible, or actual, semi-permanent packing of luggage.

Royally Pissed:

Both of these players are veterans who’ve been broken in to the business of shrewd NBA transactions before; both of their reactions said “Listen, enough is enough.”

Kevin Martin: “Daryl showed his cards. You just have to put your teammates first and nothing else after that. He felt the team should move in a different direction. He showed his cards. I’m just worried about my teammates. I’m out here with them, and that’s it. I play it day by day. I know what I bring to the table, whatever team I’m on. If (the Rockets) want it here, that’s for them to have. If they don’t, that’s for someone else.”

Placed in the most awkward of awkward positions created by Commissioner Stern, Martin responded with surprising bitterness and outright sensitivity. He’ll never be the best player on a champion, but because of his short contract length and recognition around the league as a player who can take over quarters at a time (and sometimes entire games) Martin has decent trade value. So guess what happened? He was wrapped in a package and placed on the table. Apparently, for Martin—a player who’d already been judged once before as unsuitable to participate in a rebuilding plan—this came as shocking news.

Chauncey Billups“I just don’t deserve the treatment that I’ve continually gotten. Historically, these things never happen to the supposed great players and good guys. They continually happen to me, and it gets old. I’ve got a few good years left to play, and I’m not trying to come in and sit on the bench, or be a mentor. I’m not going to be that guy. I want to go somewhere and win. I want to choose.”

After being traded from his hometown team for the second time in his career, Chauncey Billups was obviously bitter. But he made it work, acted like a professional, and gutted through an injury plagued short tenure with the Knicks. Here he was, a heady point guard who leads by example, a Finals MVP seven years ago, and a five-time all-star, acknowledged as a bag of scraps alongside the overly lauded Carmelo Anthony. After finally settling in and letting his body adjust to the cold waters of a frustrating New York Knicks situation, Billups fell victim as the first player to be amnestied under the NBA’s new provision. The timing for Billups couldn’t be worse, as he’s the sacrificial lamb in New York’s acquiring of Tyson Chandler—just as the Knicks receive their defensive big man in the middle, a supposed missing championship piece, he gets the axe.

Needing A Tissue:

Lamar Odom: “You don’t want to go to no place you’re not wanted. Imagine how Pau feels. Pau came to the Lakers and played here for four years, went to the Finals and lost, won two NBA championships and then got swept [by Dallas]. Wow! Imagine how he must feel. Man, I’m just in total disbelief about all of this. They don’t want my services, for whatever reason. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”

Aside from David Stern, no single person directly involved in the NBA has made a bigger fool of himself since the lockout ended than Lamar Odom. Coming off an offseason that BEGAN with heavy trade rumors involving himself for Minnesota’s No. 2 draft pick, Odom was blindsided by his team’s decision to replace Derek Fisher with Chris Paul. His immediate reaction was to pout, hold a meeting with his GM, then force a trade that puts his former teammates in a very difficult position at seeing any sort of championship level success this season. His teammates have voiced their anger at Mitch Kupchak, but the one they should really be irritated with is Lamar.

The Professionals:

Luis Scola: “Now I’m here, and I’m happy to be here. If you call in 10 minutes and tell me that I’m somewhere else, I’ll adjust. I’m just happy to be here. I just want to play basketball. And to be honest, I always feel really appreciated here, from everybody — the front office, the team, the fans. If I had to go, I’d go and I would try to build the same thing I had here somewhere else. No hard feelings.”

Based on public quotes, nobody has handled the Chris Paul veto better than Luis Scola. Maybe his maturity comes from growing up in a different culture or humble beginnings as an overlooked second round draft pick. Maybe he understands that no matter where he plays he will get paid his money. Whatever it is, Scola’s levelheadedness will be remembered. He’s one of the classier citizens in the league.

Rajon Rondo: “It bothered me a little bit, but at the end of the day, when I sat down and talked to [Danny Ainge], I felt more comfortable because I heard it from him. He’s a pretty straightforward guy and he’s been honest with me since day one. Teams were calling. I don’t think they were intentionally trying to ship me, but obviously you have to entertain the call. He told me he wanted me here and I’m still here so far.”

When Rondo’s name appeared (again) in speculated trade talks, Celtics fans were faced with divergent emotions. Losing Rondo would hurt. As one of the game’s best passers, he’s established himself as a possible bridge to Boston’s future, but in this situation, moving him for Chris Paul would be an upgrade nearly large enough to make the Celtics title favorites over Miami. If the trade didn’t go through though, what would Boston be left with? An already temperamental player who’s been poked and prodded one too many times? Would he demand a trade? Freelance on what plays he feels should be called at the end of games and force Doc Rivers to bench him? No and not likely. Up to this point Rondo has been gracious. He understands the mechanics of professional basketball’s business, realizes his weaknesses, and will probably use them as motivation to position himself in Paul’s much sought after position one day.

Pau Gasol: “I understand this is a business, and it’s become more of a business than a sport nowadays. It hasn’t been extremely easy to be calm and quiet and not think about the different possibilities. But I’m still here, and I’m thankful for that.”

For those who paid close attention, he was the MVP of the 2010 Finals, and was unquestionably the second best player on two championship winning teams. Before taking his first backward step since 2008’s Finals in the second round series against New Orleans, Pau Gasol was one of the league’s 10 best players. As an elite player he had a prerogative to be angry (much more so than Lamar Odom) and he chose not to drop another bomb on a war torn landscape. Tip of the cap to Pau.

Would Breathe Fire, But Too Busy Looking Up The Word “Loyalty”:

Chicago Bulls: When we say the Chicago Bulls, who we mean is Luol Deng and Joakim Noah (Carlos Boozer has also been reportedly offered in trade talks for Dwight Howard, but with that contract and him being Carlos Boozer, you’d be pressed to find any team looking to give up any legitimate value). Both players have played professionally in Chicago their entire careers, and both have rode it out through the mucky muck to witness the berth of a glorious Derrick Rose era. Noah and Deng are the two best defensive players (sorry Taj) on a team that lives and dies on its defensive influence, and moving them for Dwight Howard just seems like Chicago wanting to have their cake and eat it too.

Amar’e Stoudemire: He became the face of this organization faster than it takes to rip down a Patrick Ewing poster. Granted he’s scheduled to receive $100 million for his troubles, but all Amar’e did in heading to New York was stick his neck on the line, going somewhere nobody wanted to be, changing a culture of failure and leading a team to the playoffs that hadn’t sniffed the experience in far too long of a time. He’s rewarded by being placed on the trading block (illogically, because there’s no CHANCE New Orleans would take that money on top of those knees).

Happy To Be Here!:

Eric Gordon: “Wherever I end up is where you end up. I really don’t worry about that. It’s whatever situation you’re in, you step in and you overcome whatever obstacle or situation they put you in.”

Stephen Curry: “I talked to (general manager) Larry, (Riley) and talked to coach (Mark) Jackson about it. They told me pretty much the same thing: You’re safe and secure here. When you have a guy like Chris Paul, who is a franchise player, that’s something you really have to think about it with anybody on the roster. I understand that. I’m not going to be upset if they entertained that. It’s nice to be in the conversation with a guy like that. I know myself, I’d be part of a package, but that’s something that’s going to happen when you’re in this career, in this business, and you’ve got to run with it.”

Before Gordon was dealt to New Orleans in exchange for Paul, both players were in the same boat, and while both are superb shooters who’re still developing their all around games, neither is a sure thing to make an All-Star team, let alone equal what Paul adds to an organization. Both are young, and appear honored that their respective organizations would dare part ways with them for a player of Chris Paul’s stature, but in Curry’s case, what if keeping him has the opposite effect on their psyche, due to a fan base’s expectation for quicker results? What if he starts the season slower than assumed, or never peaks at the level we’re all anticipating? Unfair comparisons to whatever it is Paul’s doing could spiral things out of control, putting icing on top of the messiest cake this league has ever seen.

 

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