Up Against the Invisible Wall

Not all overpaid free agents are created equal.

In one realm, there are the Hedo Turkoglus of the world.  The confirmations of Turkoglu’s initial deal with Portland already had the internets launching into one giant diatribe about the contract’s length and price tag, but on some level, it made sense. In a bizarre, Otis Smithian way, handing over your checkbook for an ideal fit isn’t as foolish as it seems.  The Blazers targeted their guy, and it happened to be one that fulfilled their primary offensive needs.  On top of that, there was a real market for Turk, or at least enough of one that an over-the-top offer to Hedo was likely necessary to ensure Portland their prime target.  The Blazers needed to capitalize on some of their cap room this summer, and Turkoglu seemed a good a target as any, especially considering what Houston did to them in the playoffs by handcuffing Brandon Roy.

Turkoglu’s value was defined by the market, by two teams driving up his price by entering a bid of a bidding war.  Portland desperately wanted another piece to bolster their growing core, and Toronto desperately needed another reason for Chris Bosh to stay.  It shouldn’t matter that the Turkish Jordan ditched out on a verbal commitment with Portland.  That’s reason A-1 why the free agent moratorium is absolutely idiotic, but he doesn’t write the rule books.  He got a bigger offer in a tough economy from a city better suited to his family.  There was no franchise loyalty at play here, but two teams participating in a bidding war that was called prematurely.

In the other real, we have Ben Gordon.  Gordon obstinately refused the affectionate advances of the team that drafted him, and was rewarded for his stubbornness by being allowed to set his own market value.  According to Gordon, what many thought was a two-team bid for his services was even less than that.  Chicago wasn’t part of the equation, which left Joe Dumars to bid against himself and the monsters that Gordon and his agent had created.  The result was a bad, but not atrocious, 5-year, $55 million deal that all but gobbled up the Pistons’ future.  There was enough room to ink Charlie Villanueva to his career-making deal, but the Pistons of the future will no doubt be built on Ben Gordon’s shoulders.  The same Ben Gordon who stands as a constant defensive liability, who shoots your team in and out of games, who held a team that badly needed his scoring ransom for his services, and who will lead the troops into Waterloo.  That’s what we in the (architecture?) biz like to call “structurally unsound.”

The moves to nab Hedo are understandable, because there was some real interest there.  Free agency is just fun like that sometimes.  But when the Pistons essentially entered free agency to outbid themselves, isn’t Joe Dumar forfeiting the engineering principles of the modern Pistons?  Joe D went bargain hunting for the entire starting lineup of the 2004 NBA Champion Pistons: Chauncey turned out to be a steal for the midlevel exception, Ben Wallace was a trade throw-in, Tayshaun Prince was a diamond in the draft day rough, an unhappy Stackhouse was swapped for Rip, and Sheed was picked up for a buffalo nickel on the dollar.  Signing Villanueva and Gordon to their sizable deals hardly follows in that same tradition, and could doom Detroit to a decade of mediocrity.

So there’s a reason why Toronto won’t get the same criticism that Detroit has.  Their move was an act of desperation to hold on to a semblance of legitimacy, the cost of which was determined by demand for Turk and his big game antics.  History may not treat Turk’s signing kindly (HE’S THIRTY!), but the Raptors overcame competition and obstacles to add a pretty sweet player.  Probably not $53 million sweet, but sweet nonetheless.

Seth Carstens