Free Agency Breeze-Shootin’: Dominoes Fall

Don’t hate the player, hate the contemporary paradigm of viewing individuals with personal agency as corporate assets. (Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

Patrick Redford (@patrickredford) and Miles Wray (@mileswray) attempt to absorb the full meaning of LeBron’s return to Cleveland. 

Miles: I think Cleveland neurosis is tired and, most of all, boring. There. I said it.

PR: Same. Being really sad about sporps doesn’t make your city a snowflake. If it does, who do I send a pitch email to asking for $15 Million for a 30 For 30 about the Casspi – Beno Udrih – Tyreke Evans Kings?

Miles: At any moment SportsCenter is going to cut to live footage of grown men who have abandoned work to weep into their boilermakers right now, rejoiced at the prospects of economic revitalization. Which, yes, LeBron coming to town really does boost the profits of so many secondary industries.

Another way to boost profits in an NBA city is to construct a deep and intelligent team of multidimensional basketball players capable of making the playoffs without overwhelming contributions from the world’s best player. I swear to you other NBA teams have done just this, and with zero help from LeBron.

PR:  I think the economics of this are all somewhat ancillary. There are real benefits to be had and those arguably always outweigh the psychic goodness of sports success, but I don’t think that aspect of the story is a big reason why LeBron is back or why people are pumped about it. He talked explicitly about wanting to build something and wanting to win for Ohio and that strikes me as more than purely financial.

It’s a really rare thing for an athlete to do, to exercise their agency and do what they want to do because it’s what will make them the happiest. It helps when you’re that good, of course, to be able to flex that type of muscle. I am being reductively optimistic about this, but isn’t it kinda joyful?

Miles: Oh, I am totally thrilled for LeBron James, The Person. And indeed, kudos to him for approaching this monumental fork in the road with an eye to his holistic well-being.

Just, you know, shout-outs to all the bros on archive footage who were quite clearly thrilled to be televised while burning their gold-and-crimson #23’s in 2010. Oopsy poopsy.

I would like, in the future, for America’s best basketball player to be a homebody type from somewhere bizarre, like Aberdeen, South Dakota, or Cheyenne, Wyoming, or Ogden, Utah. National media storming his house and he’s just like, “No, I really would like to stay with the Jazz for the next twelve years.”

PR: Now that I think about it, is there any weirder home for an NBA superstar to declaratively choose over glitz besides Utah? Like, have you been to Cleveland? It would be funnier if someone hailed from like Stockton, California, Bemidji, Minnesota, or New Bern, NC, but that’s it for me.

Miles: Haven’t been to Cleveland but I assume on incoming flights that the attendants have this little routine that heavily integrates the Manziel shekel-rub.

One man who cannot be entirely bummed out about the day’s proceedings is Mr. Chris Bosh, who has just signed a 5-year, $118M deal to stay in Miami. I am incredibly excited to see a version of the Heat where the new, floor-stretchy Bosh is leader.

There are the seedlings of a playoff contender in Miami yet — this team will not be going Baron Davis-era Cavs on us. Although I am quite terrified of the money they may/will give to Wade (and, I suppose, Haslem) in the name of Loyalty.

PR: I mean, they are still in the East thankfully. A Bosh-led Heat team playing a pug dog 10 minutes per game could make the playoffs. And that’s after you account for pugs having breathing trouble in humid climates.

Miles: Bosh has subjected his stat lines to Garnett levels of sacrifice these last four years. The only reason he’s not deified for it is because he doesn’t require the iconic pre-game screaming to rev his motor.

PR: I cannot wait until Bosh retires straight into a gig with Slate. Supplements his tech-blog income with the occasional feature for Valleywag, does sports stuff for The New Republic.

Miles: His how-to books on coding will be phenomenal.

Remember those times, upwards of 12 hours ago now, when free agency was boring the poop out of everybody? All these entitled superstars are narcissistically dragging things out and wasting our precious time!

So tell me: Any major life decisions you’ve made after a single week of deliberation?

PR: Yeah I became a vegetarian for a while on basically a dare. It went okay. I had to stop because I was having anxiety dreams about Korean BBQ.

Miles: I transferred colleges and it took me about six months of consistent Internet searching, soul-searching, and spending nights clutching my legs to my chest on my bed, rocking back and forth, and having existential crises. Meantime: hey Melo, wrap this thing up already!

PR:  Ugh I know seriously. I want movement and decisions and intrigue and I want it now.

In all authenticity, the fan-as-GM view of the league has soured me. Bryan Curtis got to this, but the obsession over transactions has pitched to near soccer levels. My theory for why is twofold: 1) It’s easier to follow the league if you conceive of it as a big pile of legos being tinkered with rather than a complicated assemblage of human athletes. Modularity increases accessibility. I get wanting to see who makes the best lego castle, but I don’t see how that’s fun. 2) We all want to see the future, Miles. We want to know what can’t be known and have a grasp on the chaotic churn of life and stay one step ahead. If your team is hopeless and bad, Imagine a Better Life For Your Team With Free Agency™. Do you want to be clairvoyant?

Miles: You know, I really don’t want to be clairvoyant. I think a lot of the reason that we, collectively, are so attuned to these superstars in free agency is that their comings and goings enable us to say, with plausible confidence, “Okay, here are the four legitimate Finals contenders.” Which then makes the regular season feel like a long slog indeed to get to the point where only the elite teams are left standing. Which — and this is probably the FreeDarko fanboy in me emerging — the regular season is like the entire point, those nightly dramas of comfortably minimal import.

My favorite part of Curtis’ piece is pointing out how we use a non-human identifier to describe a human basketball player. It’s a pretty big difference between saying “Amar’e Stoudemire’s contract is a toxic asset” or “Amar’e Stoudemire is a toxic asset.” I’m sure I’ve done it so many times before, typin’ in a flurry, but it’s a lazy tic that everybody would do well to stop.

PR: Increased knowledge of the financial bone structure of the league and easy access to analytic tools make playing GM easy. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s something you should do. Fans are always going to have opinions on how their team should be built, but that easily metastasizes to a very tautological view of all things all the time. Nothing in the league is ever discussed for anything beyond its potential to help teams build build build. Which means you miss some really cool trees for the administrative inner workings of a forest.

Miles Wray