Monday, July 6, 2015

The Freedom of Speculation

By Jonathan Lowe

Saturday, we got the opportunity to celebrate this country ... well ... declaring itself a country. The Fourth of July always serves as a reminder of how our Founding Fathers craved independence from the tyranny of England's monarchy. Now, in a much lighter circumstance, NBA players have taken this week to crave their independence ... well ... to get a max contract.

The deals have been coming in hot and heavy over the last few days. However, for the first 36 hours or so, a certain theme kept scrolling across the wires. Kevin Love stayed in Cleveland. Jimmy Butler stayed in Chicago. Dwyane Wade stayed in Miami. Draymond Green stayed in Oakland. There was some movement (DeMarre Carroll, Greg Monroe, and Monte Ellis are among those players who will change jerseys), but the majority of stories involved players staying in familiar surroundings.

The narrative shifted Thursday night, when word spread that Portland shooting guard Wesley Matthews was headed to Dallas. The Mavericks continued attacking the market on Friday. They reportedly landed emerging marquee player DeAndre Jordan, who is slated to be a younger, better replacement for Tyson Chandler. Then, more fireworks ignited on the Fourth as prized "recruit" LaMarcus Aldridge agreed to terms with San Antonio. With this news reaching our ears, I can finally sit back knowing the frenzied response to free agency can actually begin.

I might not be the voice of how the typical fan looks at the phrase "free agency period." Sure, it's fantastic for a team to stay intact. However, there's a special sort of fun that happens during this time on any sport's calendar. When a franchise keeps its core pieces in place (if not the vast majority of the roster), there's a sense of familiarity. We onlookers know the players, their tendencies, and, supposedly, the clubhouse/locker room chemistry. But where's the mystique that lets our imaginations spin for months of downtime?

There's a specific allure to any amateur draft. People on the outside try to register "upside" and "ceiling" to determine whether a prospect's talent can translate to a higher level of performance. With free agency, there's a different kind of allure. We know about the talent, but how will it mesh with new surroundings? How will it co-exist with new teammates? How will it emerge under a new coaching philosophy? This is where our imaginations take over.

We can now speculate whether Matthews and Jordan will be an upgrade for Dallas over Ellis and Chandler. Is the Spurs' new starting five the best in the league? Can Carroll become an "it" factor that Paul Pierce claimed Toronto was lacking during the postseason? How explosive could the Sacramento Kings (who signed Rajon Rondo to a one-year contract on Friday) be ... especially off the court? How scary is that front line in Milwaukee now that Monroe will pair with Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo?

As summer leagues start their run, and as we wait for Training Camps to get underway, these are the questions that keep us discussing and arguing while the "gears" get realigned during the offseason. I mean, wasn't the basis for today's fantasy sports obsession the debates that emerged from the fantasies millionaire (now billionaire) owners turned into reality? So, as teams continue to reshuffle their personnel, take a moment to dream. Until the first tip-off of the regular season, our imaginations can run wild.

And (again, in a much lighter circumstance) I believe that's the type of independent thought that the Founding Fathers would totally get behind.

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