If there's any truth to the saying "absence makes the heart grow fonder", it's in the world of sports.
Certainly there were many basketball fans who didn't realize how much they missed the game until the 2011 NBA lockout looked like it was going to swallow the whole season, and there was relief among fans in the UK when ESPN finally reached a deal to broadcast games a month into the season. Certainly nowhere has absence increased a fanbase's fondness for basketball than in Seattle after the SuperSonics relocated to Oklahoma City, and it's because of those diehard fans that the biggest story in the NBA over the last week has been their possible return.
The Sacramento Kings may become the Seattle SuperSonics
In the Italian neorealist classic The Bicycle Thief, the main character, who has spent the entire film trying to reclaim the stolen bicycle he needs for his job, ends up so desperate that he attempts to steal another man's bike at the movie's end. I bring this up because this mirrors the status of the Seattle basketball fan. After the SuperSonics packed up and moved to Oklahoma City, taking Kevin Durant, the second best player in basketball, with them, Seattle has been seeking a franchise to replace them, a desire that has only increased as the renamed Oklahoma City Thunder has made a case for being the best team in the Western Conference over the course of the last one-and-a-half seasons. As the fans hoped to get a replacement franchise, they realized that the only way a NBA team was going to return to Seattle was to steal a team away from another city.
Enter the Sacramento Kings. After the long-in-the-works move of the New Jersey Nets to Brooklyn, the Kings were the team most likely to relocate next. The Kings' owners, the Maloof family, have been making gestures to move the franchise in-between making arrangements with Sacramento that would ensure the Kings would remain there. If Seattle's problem with Clayton Bennett and the 'Sonics ownership was that they knew what they were doing with the franchise from the very beginning – the goal was always Oklahoma City – Sacramento's problem with the Maloofs has been that they seem to have no idea what exactly they want to do with the Kings. Beyond the fact that the Maloofs wanted a new stadium somewhere and didn't want to pay for it, which is still apparently an OK thing to ask for even after the Miami Marlins suckered everyone in South Florida, their final destination seemed to be constantly changing. Would they stay in Sacramento? Would they mark a return to Seattle? Would they try to start a NBA team somewhere like Anaheim or, wait seriously really, Virginia Beach?
Now there's news that investor Chris Hansen – no not that one – who has a deal to build a Seattle arena, has been talking with the Maloof family about buying the Sacramento Kings. So far, the most prominent mood among those hoping for a return of the SuperSonics seems to be a mixture of joy, guilt and above all skepticism. The joy comes from the fact that if the Kings moved to Seattle, it's assumed that they would be renamed the Seattle SuperSonics, goofy mid-name capital "S" and all, almost as if they had never moved at all. There would be guilt because Seattle would be doing to Sacramento what Oklahoma City did to them, where an entire team's history would seemingly disappear overnight. Most of all there was skepticism, skepticism that there would finally be closure for the Maloof owned Kings, a team that had been promised to everyone and yet no longer belonged anywhere.
The New York Knicks hope to get healthier in London
Despite the fact that London Olympics had provided a perfect opportunity to expand the game in the UK, the NBA ran into some difficulties in taking advantage. NBA games couldn't even be seen there for the first month of the season, a situation that would have made, speaking hypothetically of course, say, writing a weekly column about the league in the American branch of an UK-based newspaper, incredibly awkward. Luckily that issue was taken care of before the league's return trip to London on Thursday, when the New York Knicks will play the Detroit Pistons in the third regular season NBA game played in Europe.
This match, which will be played at the O2, follows along with the method the NFL has taken towards their London games which tend to match the New England Patriots, a premiere franchise, with a somewhat less exciting team (such as, say, the St Louis Rams). This time around, it's the Detroit Pistons who are stuck in the "other team" role as the Knicks come in to this game as still one of the most dangerous teams in the Eastern Conference. One would think that Luol Deng and the Chicago Bulls would have been the ideal choice to make the visit, but at least it's a slightly better than the last two regular games in London which featured the less-than-marquee match-up between the Toronto Raptors and the then-New Jersey Nets.
Possibly returning on the London trip would be guard Iman Shumpert, who has been cleared to play after recovering from an ACL tear suffered in April. 21 Shump Street, as this column will continue to call him until that becomes a thing, was thought to have been a very real solution for the Knicks' point guard problem last season until Jeremy Lin came in and did his thing. Out with an injury to start the Knicks season, while Raymond Felton and the venerable Jason Kidd overachieved in the point guard spot, Shumpert has become something of an afterthought. With Felton out with a fracture and Kidd not a regular at his age, Shumpert has another chance to show that he could be a key part of this Knicks team.
What might be an even bigger bounce for the Knicks might be the fact that Carmelo Anthony will have called off a 15-day fast that he says has left him "de-energized". Anthony said he had stopped eating meat and carbohydrates, presumably including cereal, which adds yet another odd detail to Anthony's 2013, a year that has already seen him suspended a game for confronting Kevin Garnett and being spied on by Knicks owner James Dolan. Sounds like this trip might be exactly what New York's best player might need to clear his head.
The Bank of Cuban is now open
Maybe all it took was the vocal dissatisfaction of franchise player Dirk Nowitzki, but Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban says his team is willing to make trade talk with pretty much anyone. "We're letting everyone know that the 'Bank of Cuban' is open," Cuban said Monday night, because nothing says sincerity like third-person self-aggrandizement. "If it's the right deal, we don't mind taking back money."
Nowitzki's main issue with Cuban's strategy following their dark horse 2011 NBA Finals win was that his strategy seemed to be hoping to land franchise-altering big names during the summer. Instead, last summer, number one target Deron Williams stuck with the Nets as they transitioned from New Jersey to Brooklyn. Next season's summer's key targets Chris Paul and Dwight Howard are very likely to stay with the Clippers and the Lakers respectively. Cuban seems to realize that it doesn't matter how much money he's willing to offer if NBA players would rather play in New York or in Los Angeles.
So, instead, Cuban's trying to take advantage of his team's trading cap flexibility, seeking to find impact-making players from teams over the luxury cap before the February 21 trade deadline. At the very least, Cuban is doing his part to prevent this from being one of the least interesting NBA trade deadlines in years. With changing rules encouraging teams to be more and more conservative with their moves, there is an increasing danger that the hottest player available every trade deadline will be named "cap space" or "payroll flexibility". Love him or hate him, Cuban is announcing that if he has way, at least one team will be in the mix to trade for a high-impact player in an attempt to make a serious playoff run.
The NBA is more fun when owners like Mark Cuban, or general managers like the Boston Celtics' Danny Ainge, are making bold or even downright ridiculous moves. Let's hear it for high-risk high-reward trade acquisitions! Let's hear it for Big Name Players moving to Big Name Franchises! Let's hear it for trades that backfire badly! The Bank of Cuban is open for business and, even if David Stern would never admit it, that's a good thing for basketball.
John Wall has returned to the Washington Wizards
Two weekends ago Washington DC lost a dynamic young player to injury. This weekend, they got one back. John Wall obviously doesn't mean as much to his city as Robert Griffin III – this year it seemed like no athlete meant more to any city – but his return at least restored a little bit of balance. Wall returned from knee injury on Saturday night to a standing ovation from fans hoping for something, anything, good to happen this season. John Wall scored 14 points in 21 minutes in the 93-83 win over the Atlanta Hawks, but more importantly his mere presence gave fans a reason to watch Wizards games again.
Barring a Disney-sports-movie-level miracle, Wall's presence alone will not be enough to lift the Wizards from the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. Still, it will be interesting to see what Wall can do in his third year in the major leagues, especially if he can find a rhythm with Bradley Beal, Washington's pick from last year's draft. John Wall and the Wizards have almost nothing to play for this year, what they're playing for is the future.
Wall's rookie year was spent with a Wizards team full of headcases and talented-but-flawed figures, and there has been a concern that this might have hampered his development. Maybe the major flaw is just in what the current sports culture expects coming out of young players. Currently, Cleveland Cavaliers star Kyrie Irving is applauded for taking over the franchise in his second year, but there is a growing sense that this should be the norm, rather than the aberration. Although it's Wall's third year in the majors, his second season was shortened by the lockout and he has been out with an injury for the entirety of this season. There's a palpable sense that this is a "make or break" season for Wall in Washington, where the important battles won't be between the Wizards and their opponents but between Wall and the enormous expectations placed upon him.
Other things we've learned
• For the record I always hope for the best for John Wall because the John Wall Dance was the one dance I've been able to pull off. Ever.
• Business transaction of the week: not willing to take the financial risks, Kobe Bryant and his wife Vanessa have decided not to end their current enterprise.
• Andrew Bynum says he hopes to rejoin the Philadelphia 76ers, or just join really, around the All-Star Break. He also expressed optimism that he will be able to square the circle, create a perpetual motion machine and make a genuinely funny Jimmy Fallon movie.
• Boston Celtics fans everywhere are concerned about Rajon Rondo after the point guard had a triple-double that not only wasn't on national television, it was against the lowly Charlotte Bobcats. There's something clearly wrong here. Does he have that flu that's going around?
• Tweet of the week? After reports – all either unconfirmed or flatly denied by parties in the know – surfaced of what Kevin Garnett said to upset Carmelo Anthony during the Knicks/Celtics game last week, Anthony's wife LaLa contemplated making an appeal to General Mills:
"Not for nothing, but we ALL deserve a check or some free cereal 4all the publicity we've given Honey Nut Cheerios! LOL #cantbelieveeverything"
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image: © rondostar