Thanks to the NBA and the rumor-driven drama of the machinations around the league after the finals and before the draft, I’m starting to understand my kid’s behavior a bit better.
He and his fellow 12-year-old friends have enjoyed playing NBA 2K for years, taunting each other with videos of their various ankle-breaking crossovers and slam-dunk posterizations, recounting wins and losses during whatever fictional season. It’s a far cry from the rudimentary games played in the previous generation, even if the basic premise was the same — a simulation of flying around a basketball court in ways not humanly possible, at least for us.
But something changed recently. I noticed that more frequently when I descended the basement stairs to check in, the screen was filled with roster information instead of a pretend basketball game.
“Don’t you actually want to play?” I’d inquire.
“This is more fun,” was the response.
The “this” was playing general manager in a different mode of the game, constantly reshuffling the NBA to create new and different teams. Trading, signing and drafting evolved into what it meant to play, as the kids seemed to graduate to the executive level. I never realized that salary cap mathematics and luxury tax rate considerations could be considered amusing, but apparently so.
The off-court reality show around the NBA at the moment is strange and intriguing. Enough so that kids playing Xbox react to every next headline or Adrian Wojnarowski tweet with a “wow” and then suss out all kinds of multi-team trade scenarios.
Is Cleveland pursuing Jimmy Butler or Paul George and looking to move Kevin Love? How will that motivate LeBron James to stay or go when his contract is up? They fired their front office, and now it leaks out that Kyrie Irving may want to be elsewhere. Future Hall-of-Famer Dwight Howard gets traded and nobody blinks, too busy debating if the Lakers moving D’Angelo Russell to the Nets is clearer indication that they will draft Lonzo Ball. The Celtics are also interested in Butler, having cornered much of the market on first-round picks after flipping this year’s top overall selection to Philadelphia.
Still with me?
Good, because Dwyane Wade just picked up his $23.8 million player option to stay with the Bulls, even as they weigh pushing the button on a full teardown. Minnesota is impatient with their growth and looking for veteran help. George has openly divulged that he wants to be a Laker. The Clippers hired Jerry West to oversee a potential reconstruction that could mean Blake Griffin is on the move. And the Knicks are apparently dealing with a gas leak in their offices that is causing brain malfunction, or they are being managed secretly by a meth-addled bandicoot with access to a smartphone.
Not to mention the three factors fueling the new craziness.
First, we live in championship-or-bust times. The ring is the sum total of meaning for everyone involved, and everyone is trying in vain to create their own version of a mega-team that can be in the title conversation from a mere glance at the everyday lineup.
Second, the players themselves wield immense decision-making and political power, and their own back-channel communications and relationships are every bit as important — if not more so — than the calls made by the nominal execs. The teams and league cannot control what the players discuss privately or choose to share on social media with all of us, lending all of this a constant unpredictability.
Third, we are bombarded with real-time information about every last possible move, all the time. In this environment, it is virtually impossible to determine what merits reasonable speculation and what is completely off the wall. And that leads us down rabbit holes of permutations and aftereffects with every transaction made or rumored.
It’s dizzying right now, and will remain so up to and through the draft Thursday night.
I love watching the NBA, but my kid and his friends are right about how much fun this part of it is too.