Waive Buh-Bye, Fellas

Playoff roster deadline day is like Christmas for contenders.  They wake up early, giddy with excitement, and trample over each other down the stairs to see their latest bounty.  Only once they get to the tree, there are two presents and five or six kids.  Should it really surprise you that the biggest, baddest kids just beat the snot out of the others and claim the gifts as their own?

Man, that brings back some great holiday memories.

This year, Stephon Marbury and Mikki Moore are already off the market, and the Celtics are off playing with their new toys.  Unfortunately for them, they may have picked the wrong box, or failed to have seen the package with the prettier wrapping paper hiding in the back corner.  Drew Gooden and Joe Smith (and Stromile Swift!  Don’t forget Stromile Swift!), unquestionably better players than Mikki Moore, are suddenly available.  The Danny Ainge tantrum is inevitable.

San Antonio and Cleveland have the most to gain.  The Spurs are largely considered one contributing big man away from contention for serious, and both Gooden and Smith are viable options.  They each can shoot from midrange and rebound, which is already better than Fabricio Oberto’s best day.  Plus, each would present a different look for the nights when Matt Bonner’s well of three pointers goes dry.  The Cavs on the other hand, were good to go until Ben Wallace’s injury.  All of a sudden, J.J. Hickson is forced into a contributing role (rather than his customary wild card) for a bonafide contender fighting for its life to clinch the number one seed and the ever-important home court advantage.  Sounds wonderful, I know.  Gooden and Smith, two players who coincidentally have past experience with the franchise and LeBron, would allow for Wallace’s recovery and reintroduction to take as long as necessary without overdependence on Hickson’s up-and-down production.  Veteran savvy and a safety net all rolled into one.  Upon Wallace’s return, either would likely log minutes as the fourth big in the rotation behind Big Z, Anderson Varejao, and Benjamin Wallace.

I do have one question though: if mid-season waivers are the new ring-chasing, why wouldn’t Joe Smith or Drew Gooden latch on with the surest of sure things?  Each is already making well into the multi-millions on the season, and they could conceivably sign with any team in the league for the prorated veteran’s minimum.  Cleveland and San Antonio are each attractive destinations in their own right, but my point is this: if these guys want to contribute a bit and steal some bling, I don’t understand why they would discount the possibility of going to Boston or Los Angeles.  I’m probably ignoring the elephant of a recession in the room, but if your previous salary is still mostly guaranteed, wouldn’t forgoing a few million be worth it in the chase for ‘everlasting glory?’  At the very least, the ‘championship experience’ tag should be enough to turn what would have been a modest contract in the future into a pretty attractive deal, and recoup that lost salary.

This season’s waiver wire isn’t quite multifaceted enough to make a team on its own, but imagine this situation sometime in the future: a veteran point guard, a veteran swingman, and a veteran big from bottom-dwelling teams are cut loose, and all agree to join a shallow team for the veteran minimum.  That kind of swing could turn a middle-of-the-pack hopeful into a serious contender, provided the talent fits.  Of course the team in question would need to be in an attractive position and possibly in an attractive market (Hello, New LeBron City), and essentially a perfect storm of factors would need to coincide.  But this type of post-deadline maneuvering essentially lends itself to the rich getting richer through free agent monopolization.  Tweaking your team is all fun and games now, but I dread the day where a title is virtually decided by veterans desperate for rings and teams desperate to save.

Seth Carstens