NBA Free Agency and The Art of Self Awareness

Sports Self-Awareness, Bad

Self-awareness goes a long way in sports and in life. Knowing what you are and what your limitations are can be essential to achieving success whether "you" are a person or an entity, like a sports organization. The Lakers have none of this.

It's nice that they want to front the image of still being the Lakers, the NBA's premier glamour franchise and second most successful franchise in league history. None of that matters because right now their roster is barren and their ownership is divided. After over 30 years of the best ownership in sports under Jerry Buss, his death left the franchise in the hands of his children. Jim and Jeanie Buss have acted in ways - both in basketball decisions and public comments - that have made ownership a deterrent for potential free agents instead of one of the main reasons one would want to sign there.

That leads to last night when I checked my phone and saw an ESPN alert that the "Lakers not giving up hopes of landing Kevin Durant, confident they can get a meeting with him. -Chris Broussard."

I laughed out loud, because it is laugh out loud funny.

Durant's a low-key guy who has been able to build rockstar status while playing his basketball in Oklahoma City. He was Klay Thompson having an out of body experience from going to the NBA Finals. The other team that is considered the favorite to lure his services is Thompson's team. You know, the team that beat Durant's Thunder on the way to a Game 7 NBA Finals loss thanks to things that have been voraciously covered on this blog after completing the best regular season in NBA history.

The Lakers won 17 games last season, down from 21 the year before.

This is a franchise that has a history of being #blessed. They got Wilt, Magic, Kareem, Shaq and Kobe all to magically, somehow land in their laps. There were strokes of genius. There were strokes of luck. Thinking Durant is coming is a stroke of stupidity.

There's no reason he'd want to come. He's 28 years old. He wants to win a championship now and is upset he hasn't won one already. Why the hell would he go to a team that hasn't won enough games to sniff the playoffs if you combined their previous two season totals into one?

He wouldn't, which is why the only thing LA team that will be on his radar will be the Clippers, who, despite a wretched history, are the good team in southern California now.

Sports Self-Awareness, Good

On the other end of the self-awareness spectrum and the exact same side of the rankings are the Philadelphia 76ers. They've been awful (on-purpose) and know it. They would like to be a player in free agency, but know that pipe dreams are wasted energy. They know they have to target specific players and will have to over pay them. That is exactly why they are planning to throw maximum money at Harrison Barnes.

The Sixers are somewhat trying to build what the Warriors did. While they don't have anywhere near the shooting prowess Golden State does (they barely have any shooting at all), they have a number of "position-less" players, including #1 overall pick Ben Simmons.

Brining in Barnes is smart. His value has come down some thanks to his paltry finals performance, but he'll still command high dollars. He was a highly touted recruit out of high school who was productive in college, even if not at the level everyone expected. He's been productive in the pros as well, with that production coming as at least a 4th offensive option thanks to three of the ten best players in the league sharing the floor with him at most times. The burning question is what can he do if given more responsibility? 

The Sixers wouldn't be afraid to give him more of that responsibility considering they're still a few years away from the playoffs as their stable of young talent develops. Barnes could help set the culture, bringing what was expected in Golden State with him. While his NBA Finals performance was ghastly, his character is beyond reproach and he's accomplished more in the NBA than anyone on the Sixers roster. He can defend multiple positions and would fit into their style of play.

Of course going from a 73-win team to a 72-loss team that's won 47 games total the last three seasons might not be what Barnes wants to do, even if he sees the potential. He seems like a guy who values winning over money and fame. Will he take an absurd discount? No. He's not a dummy, but if he can get comparable money in a better situation he's likely not heading to Philadelphia.

From the Sixers standpoint though, it's a very reasonable goal with no downside. No one is going to laugh at their arrogance for chasing after Harrison Barnes. It's a smart idea that has a chance, even if it's a small one. Put more directly - it passes the self-awareness test that the Lakers so miserably fail with their fawning over Durant.