As tends to be the case with recent collections of megatalent under the umbrella of Team USA, this year’s gold medal winning group seems to have had itself a blast. And why not? It’s not hard to see why one might enjoy playing basketball alongside a bunch of unselfish superstars, most of whom appear to be eminently likable as people.
But Truehoop’s Henry Abbott has a post up today that asks the important question of what happens once they return home and the names on the front of the jerseys change?
Chris Paul may have been the most delighted of all: “This is the most fun time of my life; ‘08 was all good and well but there was something about our 2012 team that was just special. I hate that this was our last game playing together. It’s something that we’ll never forget.”
Here’s where things get far trickier, however: What if Paul wants to get him some more of that? What if instead of enjoying great teammates on Team USA he decides, next summer when he’s a free agent, to seek out great teammates to play with every night of the NBA season?
Are you happy for him then?
Recent history suggests the reaction of most fans is: Hell no.
Consider what happened to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. They fell in love with the idea of playing together while on Team USA (not coincidentally, while Heat owner Micky Arison’s son Nick was involved with the team). That’s where they learned it was possible to have teammates who delighted, instead of disappointed. Teammates who worked as hard as they did.
They banded together to get more of that … and people killed them for it. (Even Magic Johnson, who had once done something similar.)
But how can that celebrated and healthy summer urge to have the best camaraderie imaginable become a sinister force in the fall? If Chris Paul decides to seek out superstar teammates, on the Clippers or elsewhere, would that really make him a bad guy?
I’m a decent basketball player, relatively speaking. I’m about 6-foot-3, can knock down a jumper, and you could say I generally “know where to be,” even if my body does not always cooperate with getting me there.
If I could do anything in the world on a given day, playing hoops with my friends would be right up there among the top choices. Like the guys on this year’s Olympic team, I feel there’s nothing better than top-notch camaraderie on a basketball court.
But somewhere close behind playing with good friends would be playing with very good players. You see, when I’m playing with my friends, sometimes I’m forced to do things that I’m not entirely comfortable with. I’m not the best dribbler, for instance, so when asked to handle the ball, I’m helping neither myself nor my teammates as much as I’d like. So when given the opportunity to run with a great point guard and a legitimate big man, I will readily go stand in the corner and play my role.
For Paul, this is not an either/or proposition. When he becomes a free agent after this season, the team that stands in position to give him the best deal also happens to offer a sound basketball foundation. Blake Griffin, who was one of those mutli-talented, dream-to-play-with Olympians before getting hurt, will be around for the next half-decade, so the Clippers have that going for them, which is nice.
And as this offseason has shown, the Clippers have no problem handing their stars control over personnel moves. So in that sense, the Clippers are reasonably positioned to create their own, to-scale NBA version of the Olympic team that stars like Paul and Griffin can enjoy playing with.
But to Abbott’s point, I do not expect Clipper fans to be so understanding, should Paul decide that he’d rather play elsewhere next year. The benefits of staying seem clear, but that doesn’t mean that other alternatives won’t pop up with appeal of their own.
As we’ve covered ad nauseam over the course of the last few summers, free agency is a collectively-bargained right that NBA players should be free to explore. But that’s usually not the way it works in the eyes of fans whose teams get spurned or those with an unwavering idea of how players should act.
It’s unfortunate, because the best way for a team to keep a star player is to create the best possible working environment for them. And aside from cheering loudly at games, fans are essentially powerless in that regard. So it’s in the hands of others — the owner, the front office, the coaching staff, and the teammates — to get the job done. All we can do is enjoy the show, whether it takes place in London or at Staples Center, and hope for the best.