When it comes to B.S. detectors, most NBA players have the deluxe model. Owners, general managers and head coaches can say all they want that their aim is to win a championship, but the only way to get a group of players to buy in completely is to show, not tell.
"This," said veteran point guard Earl Watson, "is a league of questioning."
By that, he means that players are inherent skeptics. If they aren't that way when they arrive in the NBA, they are soon after, thanks to myriad promises—"We want to build around you" or "We have no plans to move you" or "Don't worry about your numbers; we'll take care of you come contract time if you do what we ask"—that rule more by convenience than by sincerity. That's why it matters less what system a coach runs than that it is a system his players are convinced works.
"Belief," Watson said, "is stronger than reality."
The Indiana Pacers are doing whatever they can to make their collection of players believe that the time to win a championship is now. That is why they signed wobbly-kneed center Andrew Bynum to a roster that was already one of the league's longest and tallest.
It doesn't matter if Bynum actually plays; a handful of league executives expressed doubt that he will. If he convinces the rest of the Pacers to play as if this is their last, best chance out of deference to the move, it will be worth it.
Yes, the signing keeps Bynum from joining a rival, although all indications are that the Miami Heat were never serious suitors—and does anyone else in the Eastern Conference really matter, as far as the Pacers are concerned? (Answer: No.) Yes, Indy could use a little more frontline toughness with Tyler Hansbrough in Toronto and Luis Scola showing his age (34 in April) and mileage (double duty between the NBA and international play for Argentina since 2007).
Yes, Bynum is an insurance policy of sorts for Roy Hibbert and Ian Mahinmi. But more than anything, he is psychological leverage. He is a pledge by Pacers management to the rest of the roster that it is willing to add every last piece it can to win a title, even if it means some duplication that proves to be unnecessary. And even if it means bumping up against the luxury tax, which is where the Pacers now are thanks to Bynum's $1 million deal.
"There is a value and I do think it sends a message," one NBA executive said.
The message: There are no excuses. We've given you everything you could possibly need. If it doesn't happen, it's on you.
(The opposite message, which other teams will begin sending soon enough, if they haven't already: trading away players for future assets and playing young players far more than their actual ability warrants.)
Honing everyone's attention on the task at hand by putting an unfamiliar hungry face in the room is not exactly a new ploy. Look through the years, and a host of eventual champions have done the same. The 2007-08 Boston Celtics added P.J. Brown in late February and point guard Sam Cassell in early March. The 2011 Dallas Mavericks picked up Peja Stojakovic the January before their playoff run and defensive stopper Corey Brewer a month later. The 2012 Heat added Eddy Curry in December and Ronny Turiaf in March. The following year, Chris Andersen served as the no-rock-left-unturned symbol, joining Miami in late January.
Only the Lakers' championship teams in '09 and '10 felt no need to make a late addition, perhaps knowing that Kobe Bryant provided all the impetus necessary to keep the team in go-mode.
The Heat actually may have the same faith that Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh are beyond needing such a mental goose when it comes to chasing a title. Although Miami added Greg Oden and Michael Beasley despite the fact that they each will cost 1.5 times more than their actual salaries thanks to the luxury tax, it then trimmed by exchanging center Joel Anthony's $3.8 million for point guard Toney Douglas' $1.6 million, a savings of more than $4 million. (The Lakers made similar minor money-driven moves in both of their last championship seasons.)
Then again, the Heat's move also could have been a means of creating a roster where LeBron James has no choice but to play more as a power forward, especially come playoff time. For some teams, the psychological games within an organization are as fascinating—and meaningful—as anything they do against an opponent.
• I've seen more referees call fouls this season when they're screened from the actual contact than I have in some time. A source I trust about officiating matters suggested that the legion of young referees currently working feel compelled to blow the whistle when something violent happens in their area of responsibility and, in turn, are reluctant to make—or correct—a call when it's not in their area. In short, fear of missing a foul or stepping on a colleague's toes is having a negative impact. It's merely a theory, but it makes sense.
• It has been reported that the Philadelphia 76ers are shopping Evan Turner, but a league source said he's not the only Sixer available for the right price: both Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young can be had as well. Hawes, as a stretch 4 with an expiring contract, could be enticing as long as the asking price is not too steep—and, yes, a first-round pick would be steep.
• A quick list of teams that could be active at the trade deadline, split into buyers and sellers: 76ers, Jazz, Bucks, Lakers and Bulls are potential sellers; Bobcats, Warriors, Knicks, Nets, Cavaliers, Wizards, Suns, Mavs and Pistons are all potential buyers. The Timberwolves and Nuggets, one executive opined, could swing either way depending on how the next week or so goes.
Ric Bucher covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.
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