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Chris Paul is simply the latest consumer of the NBA arms race that started in Boston

Jul 23, 2010, 9:00 AM EDT

cpaul_sits.jpgIn 2007, the Spurs won their fourth title inside of a decade. They defeated a LeBron James-led Cavs team that featured Sasha Pavlovic as the fifth-leading scorer on the team. The arguable second-best team was the Phoenix Suns who would immediately begin a spiral based off of the hyper-reactive initial moves of Steve Kerr. The Mavericks were in there, with Josh Howard as a pivotal component, a player who now has yet to secure a team for next season.

The Spurs were masters of overcoming odds but were not considered dominant, despite their jewelry. There was parity, there was dilution, there was no true superpower.

And then the arms race began. In reality, we can trace all of this back to Joe Barry Carroll.  Carroll was such an attractive first round pick that the Warriors traded the rights to the third-overall pick to Boston. While Carroll would wind up flittering in and out of the league and Italy, the Celtics would use that third-overall on Kevin McHale in 1980. 27 years later, McHale would trade Kevin Garnett to the Celtics for a platter of players, the crown jewel of which was just traded for a series of late first-round picks.

Boston acquired Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to go along with Paul Pierce. And a new superpower was born. The Celtics’ power was pretty evident from the start. Torching the league up and down. Until the new year. The Lakers, having barely survived a near-Kobe-trade-demand meltdown realized that they had to improve. That good wasn’t good enough. And then somehow, the Grizzlies helped create Voltron 2. With Pau Gasol in place, the Lakers immediately became #1a in the league. This was in addition to Andrew Bynum, Derek Fisher, and Lamar Odom, mind you. Later, the Celtics would add Nate Robinson and Rasheed Wallace. The Lakers would add Ron Artest for the MLE.

Good? Good was now average. Great was now “pretty good.” And elite was the standard.

And that’s how it went for three years. The Cavs would try and add value players without ever going for the home run. The Nuggets and Mavs would each make moves they thought would bring them to the elite level. More and more you’d hear the phrases “what they need to beat the Lakers/Celtics.” It was no longer about building a complete roster, it was imperative to get as much size and as much talent. That’s always the goal of building a team, right? Previously the idea was one superstar, one supporting star, and then role players. Now you needed multiple superstars just to compete.

Which brings us to this summer. After three years of watching teams with that kind of starpower win titles while they wallowed with one-star teams, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James elected to no longer stand by and watch other teams go to battle with that kind of firepower. They combined their forces and now have a team that should challenge those other elite teams. (Boston has to get old at some point, right? Right? Right?!)

And sure, the world hates them. Chicago. New York. New Jersey. Especially Cleveland, with the fire of a million suns. But past the terrible PR moves and the horrendous decision making and the woeful soundbites is a sense that these three aren’t trendsetters. They’re not doing anything unheard of. They’re simply taking the game they’ve been handed and upping the stakes.

Which brings us to Chris Paul. Paul has been a model citizen for years. In 2008, with the Hornets pushing the Spurs to seven games, the future couldn’t be brighter. But since then, he’s watched two things. He’s seen his own team spiral into the frustrating position Cleveland and Miami have been, and he’s seen three of his best friends team up to combat the team of older veterans he’s seen dominate the league. And Paul wants a piece. Paul understands the new world that Boston and LA have created, and wants a piece of it. Paul’s not asking for a trade to anywhere with solid collections of talent. He wants to slide into a contender. He’s seen the present, and the present means starpower.

Amar’e already made multiple pitches for another Big 3. The Magic are trying to formulate as such. And the Lakers and Celtics are still the favorites, along with the Heat. This arms race is in full swing. Driving up contract prices, making franchises desperate, and forcing small market superstars to position themselves on superteams.

Most blame selfishness, laziness, desperation for the behavior of this group of friends and their multi-star machinations. But in reality, they’re simply products of their environment. Chris Pauls’ potential trade was put in motion decades ago. You can even start with Joe Barry Carroll.

  1. hut - Jul 23, 2010 at 9:29 AM

    This is bad for the NBA. How is this imbalance working out for MLB?

  2. Jim - Jul 23, 2010 at 9:53 AM

    This is going to be real bad for the NBA. If this becomes the norm, small to mid market franchises are going to collapse in mediocrity. It was always a struggle for the Minnesota’s, or the Clevelands, or the Utah’s of the world to compete in free agency, even with the salary cap rules. NBA players want to be in those destination cities. Now, the big names want to play together. That is obviously their right as free agents (not Paul’s right as a player under contract: he should be forced to honor it). But it has the makings of setting off serious competitive imbalanace in the league.
    I’m not sure how the league really addresses it either. Maybe compensate the team who loses a Tier 1 free agent (Lebron, maybe Bosh) with draft picks, sort of like baseball? Even then, the NBA only has two rounds in the draft, and to have any chance on getting a superstar, you generally need to be in the top 10.

  3. BC - Jul 23, 2010 at 10:20 AM

    It didn’t start in Boston. It started in LA when Karl Malone and Gary Payton went to LA to try and win a ring.

  4. CB - Jul 23, 2010 at 10:53 AM

    It didn’t start in Boston. It started in LA when Karl Malone and Gary Payton went to LA to try and win a ring.
    Translation (from Boston Whine-ese):
    WAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!! Everyone is picking on us little Boston wimpy fans and our BOUGHT title.

  5. Jim - Jul 23, 2010 at 11:30 AM

    Karl Malone and Gary Payton were aging veterans on the tail end of their careers hoping to ride others coattails to a title. What has happened since is drastically different. We now have superstars in their primes teaming up together to win a title while simultaneously diluting the league. Aging veterans always go to perceived title contenders (see Howard, Z, et al on the Heat this year).

  6. Craig W. - Jul 23, 2010 at 11:32 AM

    It started in LA (Karl Malone & Gary Payton in 2004)????
    The point of the article was that it really started in 1980, with the Warrior trade to the Celtics. Actually, you could say it started with the Lakers; when they got two first round picks (Magic and Worthy) to pair with Kareem.
    Actually, I like Colin Cowherd’s take…”We say we want equality, but we watch the dynastys” (Yankees, Cowboys, Lakers). Our pocketbooks say we want to follow winners. If this is true then these developments may be better for the overall NBA ratings. Several extremely good teams, in larger, well run markets and an occasionally good interloper (OK Thunder).

  7. J. McCann - Jul 23, 2010 at 12:09 PM

    A big piece of this is the “Max” contract.
    Make it only 1/3 of the cap and you get teams of 3 superstars.
    They need to make it about 1/2 the cap, and then the players will be forced to spread out.

  8. John - Jul 23, 2010 at 2:57 PM

    To say the trend LBJ, Wade, and Bosh have set started in Boston is to compare apples to oranges. The Celtics acquired the Big 3 through building young, tradeable assets (at that time, I am not arguing that Gerald Green is an asset today) and parlaying it into a larger contract. The way they created their triumvirate of superstars was not on the agenda of the players. Additionally, each of the players had put in their time trying to win on their own. This wasn’t a in-their-prime Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and KG joining forces because they couldn’t win on their own. Each player got to the tail end of their prime and was fortunate enough to be paired with the others. What LBJ did was a cop-out and how Chris Bosh did it made him a lap dog. The earlier super teams did not circumvent the system or attempt to usurp power from GMs like Bosh, James, and now Paul are doing. These guys are trying to shift the balance of power from executives to players. As a Sixers fan, I love to see the Celtics bashed, but not here, and not when it is undeserved.

  9. Matt - Jul 24, 2010 at 3:08 PM

    Chris Paul has been a model citizen for years? I guess punching someone in the groin during a game is indicative of a model citizen?

  10. frank - Jul 24, 2010 at 7:22 PM

    I hope you’re joking about Joe Barry Carroll. The suggestion that McHale really just wanted to help Boston as opposed to himself, or finding a way to get out of the Garnett years with the best deal possible is not supported by the facts. Why not blame Red Auerbach (a favorite sport among many), who drafted Danny Ainge? Or John Brown, the owner of the Celtics who hired Red Auerbach? Celtics-bashing never gets old!

  11. frank - Jul 24, 2010 at 7:24 PM

    I meant Walter Brown.

  12. The Dude Abides - Jul 25, 2010 at 3:03 AM

    You completely forgot the component that made the Joe Barry Carroll trade the most lopsided trade in NBA history. It wasn’t Carroll for McHale. It was Carroll for McHale AND Robert Parish.

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