Homegrown Heroes Might Be Going Extinct
There aren't very many parallels to be found between the game of the past and the game of the present. For one, three pointers are being hoisted up at a mind blowing pace. During the 18-19 regular season, the 30 teams of the National Basketball Association took a combined average of 32 range attempts per game. That's certainly a far cry from the 13 attempt average back in the 99-00 campaign. That's nearly a 250% increase in less than 20 years. If that kind of growth was found within an earnings report for a major corporation, that was be cause for celebration. This sniper barrage has contributed to the growth of NBA entertainment and popularity over the years, but it has had some side effects that certain basketball fanatics can't help but be irritated by. That brings us to the infamous hand check rule. This is a major development that we just can't forget about when tracking the evolution of professional basketball. This rule, or omission rather, was implemented over ten years ago. The rule change helped usher in this modern era of offense that prioritizes spacing and skill over physicality and toughness. Going back to unintentional blowback, players like Reggie Miller, and Rudy Gay have chimed in recently to profess their distain for the stark contrasts that exist compared to basketball in the 90's or even in the early 2000's.
You see, change is a necessary product when you're looking to achieve goals. The loftier the goals, the more transformation is required.
Older fans of game are understandably irked by the tendency of big time players have to jump teams when things don't go as planned. Our generation places a great deal of importance (too much if you ask me) on winning championships and that has huge repercussions when it comes to legacies. From a fan's perspective, it would seem that Kevin Durant's biggest fear in basketball prior to joining Golden State was retiring without a hefty championship ring to place on his bedroom dresser at night. He has tried to steer us in various directions by claiming his move was purely based on on the offensive system he was playing in, but that is almost certainly only half of the story. Through seven years in OKC, Sam Presti was able to surround him with premium talents like Serge Ibaka, Russell Westbrook, and Steven Adams, but his efforts were in vain. Durant still got the sinking feeling that he was running out his prime without a decent chance at a ring. Remember, OKC only made the Finals one year and that was long ago during the 2011-2012 season. KD hadn't been back since and concluded his only shot at fulfilling his proclaimed mission was to join the almighty force of the Warriors, who had dispatched his OKC squad in 2016 after being down 3-1.
Legacies are not the only intangible component of basketball that have been revolutionized in recent years. We've never been a part of an era that featured as much player control as this one. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant and other superstars of our time have completely changed what it means to be a professional athlete. Previously, members of the NBA were expected to "shut up and dribble" as it's been called and that was was the end of it. Today, players are so much more. They are their own brand. Let's not get it twisted...this power goes far beyond endorsement deals and signature shoes.
How about we zoom in on LeBron for a second. He has always demanded the absolute most out of himself and those he surrounds himself with by pushing the boundaries of what an athlete can or cannot do. During his Miami days, he began a trend of speaking out against various injustices that have appeared in our society. Last year, he accomplished a marvelous feat by opening a school with the intention of helping the less privileged gain a solid education.
As much flack as he catches on a regular basis for his Hollywood endeavors, it is honestly incredible what has been able to be a part of off the court. We can debate until we're blue in the face on whether or not it impacted his on court contributions or focus this season, but at the end of the day, he is a multi-millionaire getting ready to star in a sequel of one of the most recognizable sports films of all time. Commercials, original programs, films, investments, LeBron has a hand in countless off court products and he couldn't be happier with how his career has turned out.
"The Brow" emerged on the NBA scene in 2012 amid an overwhelming swarm of hype and expectations. After averaging 14.2 points and 10.4 rebounds on 62% shooting from the field in one year at Kentucky, many experts and fans declared Anthony Davis as a generational prospect that was destined for nothing short of Superstardom...and guess what? He nailed every expectation placed in front of him from day one.
Well, almost all.
New Orleans faithful have endured the tragedy of seeing their team relocated after a devastating Hurricane in 2005, a complete meltdown of their NFL on more than one occasion, and a certain "Point God" depart after one too many playoff disappointments. They certainly don't need anymore heartbreaks.
Unfortunately, life tends to rain down more inconveniences at the worst times. It shows no mercy and has a tendency to kick those who are already down on their luck. Basketball fans in the Big Easy now have to deal with quite possibly one of the worst situations in sports. Seeing your franchise player, savior, ticket to title contention, ask to be traded. On January 29th, AD formerly made his request to move on from New Orleans after 6.5 seasons playing for the team that selected him #1 overall and put their hopes and dreams into that 18 year old young man.
We're not just talking about a great player here. He's more than a yearly All-Star selection. He's more than a franchise player. This is quite possibly one of the five best basketball talents on the planet and a virtual lock for the Hall of Fame, even at age 26. His career averages will take your imagination for a ride as you contemplate who he stacks up with in the pantheon of NBA greats.
He is one of only four players in league history to average 20+ points, 10+ rebounds, 1+ steals, and 2+ blocks per game over an entire career. The others? David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Elvin Hayes. He also finished his season with the highest true shooting percentage. I'm going to assume you've heard of those other three players. They were pretty good.
So as you can see, Anthony Davis IS New Orleans. He has served as their competitive heartbeat for over half a decade and puts the city on the map each year. Let's be honest, 90% of the hoops world wouldn't pay any attention to what's happening in New Orleans without some sort of relevant star to draw our interest. For seven years, this legendary new age big man has captivated hoops faithful with his ridiculously versatile game through countless nagging injuries and inevitable playoff exits.
In 2014, he carried a Pelicans team that ranked in the bottom 3rd of the league (22nd) in defensive rating to a playoff berth, narrowly edging out OKC through a tiebreaker that might not have been in play if KD hadn't gone down with a foot injury earlier in the year. You never would have been able to tell it was Davis' first adventure through the playoffs, though. He managed to drop an astounding 31ppg, 11reb, 1.3 stls, and 3.0 blk in those four games to the eventual NBA champions. It may have been a sweep, but he delivered that fanbase real hope for the future and genuine joy after losing Chris Paul just a few years prior.
His 2017-18 campaign has to be the crown jewel of his young career up to this point. He stayed relatively healthy with 75 out of a possible 82 games played and finished in the top three of MVP and DPOY voting after breaking through to the 2nd round of the playoffs. That fanbase had to be on cloud nine. That is a heck of a lot more winning than they've seen in quite some time. Davis was in his prime. Holiday was healthy. Everything was clicking. This beautiful dream can't possibly end anytime soon. Until it did. No one, including Pelicans faithful would have thought that less than one year later, their homegrown hero would asking for a way out of the only organization he's ever known.
This is a power play for Davis, much like LBJ pulled off in 2010 after seven years with his original team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. They share the same agent, Rich Paul and Davis has stated he's using his power to impose his will on the Pelicans and force this transaction to go through. It's this same power that I mentioned mentioned here that gives Davis the ability to slam New Orleans management against a metaphorical wall until his wishes are fulfilled.
Through extensive CBA reformation in 2017, the players of the NBA were granted a greater share of Basketball Related Income. This brought the players up a near 50/50 split with the Owners in terms of money they were due each year. This was done after the Players Association claimed they were losing out on money that they rightfully deserved. That along with the rising salary cap resulted in extreme increases in player income in their new contracts.
Anthony Davis was greeted with a nice $127,171,313 contract after his rookie deal expired two years ago. He made $25,434,263 this season and still has two years left on this max extension worth over $55 million. Davis can't even enter FA for until 2021, and yet the Pelicans basically have to ship him off before the 2019-2020 season, or risk serious repercussions on the court. Earlier than ever, players like Davis are requesting trades that force the teams they're attached to to make very difficult decisions that alter the very essence of the culture.
Paul George and Kawhi Leonard more or less, did the same. They didn't outright request a trade, but the writing was on the wall in their respective situations. Sometimes words don't have to be exchanged, at least not on the record. They just know it's not working out and it's time to move on.
This isn't the 90's or early 00's. You won't find many Kobe Bryants, John Stocktons, Tim Duncans, or dirk Nowitzkis that spend 15+ years with one franchise. The rising popularity of AAU basketball and other youth basketball leagues have blurred the lines between friend and foe in the pros. Recruiting is at an all time high. Pulling an old school solo act can have adverse effects on your teams competitiveness long term. Westbrook would have been dead in the water if not for Paul George politely pushing Indy aside to find greener pastures. It's doubtful that Damian Lillard wins a championship unless things really break his way in the next few years. These Point Guards are some of the last traditional stars that scoff at the idea of teaming up with other alphas.
Giannis, KAT, and Booker are some of the next batch of stars that could be looking for a new team in the next few years. What does past history tell us about how the Bucks, Wolves, and Suns will go about constructing their rosters over the short-term? For one, they won't be shy about acquiring talent. The Sixers have team control over Joel Embiid until 2023, and Ben Simmons until most likely 2023, pending the duration of his upcoming extension. But hey, it's never too early to begin to build trust from your star duo and show them you're committed to winning at all costs. That's partially why Elton Brand built a roster that capitulated their ceiling straight into the contender stratosphere. (You can find more info on Brand's maneuvers this season in this prior blog post.)
The bottom line here is we can expect less homegrown heroes to emerge going forward. So what exactly is a homegrown hero, you ask? Think of them as you do Batman. Batman is hero, right? The legend of that hero was born in a particular place...Gotham City. He may have left on occasion, but the brunt of his work was done in the city that made him who he is. The city that molded and shaped his entire life. When he hangs it up for good, he becomes synonymous with the place where he spent the majority of his crime fighting career.
Appreciate the prior legends of the game like Kobe and Dirk, because there aren't many like them left in today's game. Lillard and Westbrook seem to be on their way, but things can change quickly. I guess we'll find out soon enough if they can live up to the legend of Batman.