The NBA’s All-Interesting 6th Team

After my last piece, I received somewhere between zero and several emails from people saying they’re now too scared to watch basketball.  I understand, and I’m helping.  Look, here:

Ruboosketball

Yes.  Good.  Richard Rubio replaced the terrifying ghost.  Now everything is fine because the best way to deal with problems is to pretend they don’t exist. We’re just going to move on like nothing happened, and, in doing so, we will heal.

Today we’re going to construct a rotation of this season’s most fun, interesting players directly affected by offseason moves. I say “we” because we are doing this together as a team together even if it doesn’t seem that way because this was written and posted before you knew your involvement was in demand.

How are fun and interesting decided?  In my mind, there is a static set of determining factors:

  • How many lyrics to “My Ass is On Fire” by Mr. Bungle do they know?.
  • That’s it.

No doubt the subtle way this weaves its way into an 82 game narrative is fascinating, but we won’t be using this system because 1) It’s not all about me; we’re doing this together as a team together and 2) I have absolutely no good way of finding this out about anyone.  I think I need to write another half-dozen or so blog posts before I’m made a credentialed member of the media and allowed to pose the question after tough playoff losses.

Our rotation will need to be determined differently.  To make it a rotation, we have to not pick the obvious stars; depth is important except in Indiana. To make it interesting, we have to pick players who have not been covered to a consensus expectation since relevant offseason moves were made. To make it fun, we have to pick players whose circumstances may shock them out of what seemed like a potentially permanent narrative.  (Definitions of “fun” may vary.)

So in respect, our rotation must meet the following criteria:

  1. Is not the best player on their team now (No LeBron, No Rubio, No Bosh)
  2. Was not the best player on their team last year (No Love, No LeBron again)
  3. Was not been discussed in great detail as the moves were happening (No Parsons, No Klay, No Lance)
  4. Has had their role changed drastically from the end of last season to the beginning of this one (No Pau, No Wade, No to almost most every re-signing)

And so on.

Now that we’re all on the same page together as a team together, our 6 through 10:

PG – Rodney Stuckey

Move: Rodney Stuckey to Indiana for 1 year/$1.2 million

Why Fun? Lots and lots of unoccupied space.

Indiana’s two biggest on the ball creators from last year are gone, and that was Stuckey’s role for the Pistons last season.  Coming off the bench he cut his three point attempts in half, took more shots while still making a higher percentage, and posted the best Points Per 36 Minutes of his career at 18.7.  $1.2 is not a bad price for that kind of player, especially if he can maintain this trajectory.

But it’s less the Stuckey move itself and more the circumstances that came after it.  He’s moved from 6th man on a team that didn’t make the playoffs to the potential leading scorer on the team that just had the best record in the east.  That Indiana team is gone; it followed Stephenson and George out the door.  What Stuckey does in their absence will be intriguing.  Maybe he’ll fit into Vogel’s system better than he did with the run of rotating coaches in Detroit, or maybe he’ll feel a desperate need to create for himself, or maybe he won’t get much play at all.  There’s enough room for something bizarre to happen, and mystery is fun.

SG Dion Waiters.

Moves: LeBron James to Cleveland for 2 years/$42.2 million

Kevin Love to Cleveland for Anthony Bennett, Andrew Wiggins, and Stuff

Why Fun? Waiters will be playing the role of Swaggy P this season.

Last year, the Lakers were going to be bad with or without Nick Young, so we just got to have fun and watch him.  This year, the Cavs are going to be good with or without Dion Waiters, so we just get to have fun and watch him.  There may be people keying in on Dion as the foundation to the Cavs success, but I don’t know any of them.

He’s a luxury; a guy competing for #1 billing on his team last year relegated to, arguably, the best #4 option in the league.  He can go for 30, and is a threat to go for 20 every night.  He’s an unstable locker room presence, but nowhere near bad enough to shake LeBron (and if he is, he’ll he’ll just follow Bynum and Turner into the void).  Now, after being a lightning rod for two years, he’ll be a tertiary narrative to the other players and storylines on his team.  And he’s only in his third year.

He can play, and maybe now he can just play. I’m more excited to watch Waiters than anyone else in the league this year.  Sorry, Andre.

SF – Luol Deng

Move: Luol Deng to Miami for 2 years/$19.9 million

Why Fun? Up and down and up again?

To be clear: this has nothing to do with Danny Ferry.  Luol this year is really only interesting because of Luol last year.  Before being incarcerated on the Cavs, Deng seemed like a pretty reliable commodity.  He was a stalwart of Thibodeau’s system, a lauded locker room guy, a veteran with years ahead of him who couldn’t help but help his team.  Then the Cavs happened to him.  His FG% fell, his scoring fell, his rebounds fell, his assists fell, his FT% fell, and so on and so on and .·´¯`(>▂<)´¯`·.

A few months later, and suddenly he’s LeBron’s ostensible replacement inasmuch as anyone can replace LeBron.  He’s gone from being the presumed missing piece to a playoff push to becoming a bandage to hopefully stop the bleeding.  The Heat’s rank in the east is hard to predict, and how far they go probably isn’t going to led by Deng’s play.  But the Heat should still be good, and Deng is still good.  It’s an impossible task to replace LeBron, so he’s an underdog.  You can’t help but cheer for the underdog, and you can’t help but cheer for Deng in the first place.  He’s a good guy doing his best in a difficult situation.  Seeing how much of LeBron he can be (65%? 75%? 80?) will be fun to follow.

PF – Anthony Bennett

Move: Anthony Bennett and Stuff to Minnesota for Kevin Love

Why Fun? He’s escaped the bright lights of Cleveland.

Anthony Bennett did not need the #1 pick designation.  He did not need the expectations or attention.  He did not need to be judged in terms of whether he “deserved” to be at the top of the draft.  He did not need people questioning his health, weight, and dedication.  He did not need to be on a team trying to make the playoffs “now.”  He did not need to be the result of the lottery that Cleveland would claim to be their last.  He did not need to be written off as a bust before he finished his first season.  All of these things happened.  That’s done now.  He can only go up from here.

What he needed was patience and quiet, and he didn’t get it.  Instead he was gleefully written off.  Now that it’s a few months later, that could turn out to be a good thing.  Since his game was so eagerly dismissed, he was, at best, the third biggest name in this deal.  In the shadow of his mounting narrative, he quietly recorded a couple double-doubles by the end of last year.  There were signs of growth, and the Wolves are rebuilding; he’s not going to be pressed to push for the playoffs.  This is the environment Bennett should have had last year, and I’m hoping for the best.  I’ll be eagerly searching out Waiters’ highlights throughout the year, but I’ll be just as interested in seeking Bennett’s box scores.

C – $1.25 Million

Move: 1.25 Million Dollars to OKC for Hasheem Thabeet

Why Fun?: Extending that championship window

We knew this kind of thing was going to happen. We knew the Thunder were going to be pretty capped out when they re-signed Harden.  It’s not anything a team likes to do, but sometimes you have to take whatever change you can get.  The sad truth is that having the MVP and the best young core in the league just doesn’t get you much money or attention.  Priorities.

Luckily they were able to turn a former #2 pick into a million bucks.  This would remind me of the Suns selling off picks during Nash’s prime and refusing to bolster the roster for the sake of a miniscule profit, but this is completely different because OKC has never come off as cheap.  This $1.25 million is exactly what they need to keep Durant and Westbrook on the team when they come up in free agency.  They’re fostering goodwill, maintaining a happy fanbase, impressing their players, and going for a threepeat.  Congrats to the Thunder on their burgeoning dynasty.

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