Above The Rim

The Coattail Champions

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Now that everyone is becoming accustomed to the NBA players getting together and creating “Superteams”, it is time for me to put the spotlight on another very annoying trend in the NBA – the “Coattail Champions”.

I am still not alright with “Superteams”. I was utterly disappointed with LeBron’s dash for glory, and I am even more annoyed with the Brooklyn Nets “win at all costs” mentality (and I am talking at ALL costs, their tax bill will be higher than the amount paid to my entire Thunder roster!!!). Enough is enough. The new CBA better start making a more even playing field, where teamwork, depth and shrewd business sense make champion teams, not players who want to ball together and make it easier on themselves at the expense of a fair and balanced league.

With that out of the way, it is time to turn my attention to what I have dubbed the “Coattail Champions”. The first time I blatantly recall this was with my beloved Gary Payton heading to LA to try and get himself a ring in the twilight of his career. He was joined by Karl Malone who obviously had the same idea. It is hard to see a franchise guy walk for a chance at a ring, but I can understand it. However, these guys were a little different. They still had something to contribute.

I am going to give Shane Battier a pass and even Ray Allen a pass. They actually made meaningful contributions to the Heat’s most recent championship and deserve their dues. The rest of the league is on notice though.

Derek Fisher left the Lakers and then left the Jazz and wound up with the Thunder in an attempt to score himself ring #6 (even wearing the number 6 jersey for a season). Now the Thunder who aren’t overly deep outside the core young talent have been able to use Fisher, but there is no doubt, this is a ring chase. I give him a semi-pass mark because he actually plays – but there better not be another attempt after this year (and he has acknowledged this will be his last).

Most recently Greg Oden has decided to join the Heat. For a guy who hasn’t done anything in the NBA, he felt this was his best chance at a ring. Well done – get a ring by default. God forbid you actually go somewhere and try to restart your stalled career. Injury is a cursed mistress and I understand it, but really Greg? You should have gone to the Mavs or Pelicans where you can get decent minutes, make a contribution, be the best player YOU can be – ring or not.

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Next up is you Stephen Jackson. You are always willing to shoot your mouth off at punks and here you stand – wanting to be on a contender. You should be thankful anyone even gives you another chance. Now you want to play for Miami or Houston? Why – because that will be nice and easy to streamline through the season behind star players? Shame on you. I thought you had some fight in you.

Mike Miller recently was amnestied by the Heat. He could have easily signed anywhere and I was really hoping he would come to OKC, not for an easy ride behind a very talented young list, but because I actually think he could help the Thunder with his sharp shooting, savvy veteran leadership and championship experience. Instead he has gone to Memphis (where he has played before) to contribute and to try and beat the best in the West.

Don’t even get me started on DeShawn Stevenson. Here is a dude that actively trolled and taunted the rest of the league. I am not sure where he gets off, but all of a sudden he wants to take off the “How does my Dirk taste” t-shirt and team up with the same guy he wanted to war with? For starters DeShawn, you are the ultimate coattail champion. Riding Dirk so hard your butt must be sore and now pleading with LeBron to take you to another title? Please….

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We as a basketball public have caused this situation. We have made numerous references to being a champion. We ultimately talk rings when we enter any “best player” debate and now we are paying the price. Rather than a fair and balanced league, we have the have and the have nots. We have a free agency full of retired, formerly retired, ex-retired, retired but could be lured back players who are wanting to chase a ring.

Franchises would be stupid to not take advantage of this buyers’ market. I am not blaming the Heat or anyone else. It is not their fault that everyone wants an easy ride. For those franchises who don’t have the big market pull, the nice beaches etc – I suggest you start working closely with your superstars. You do not want them leaving, especially for nothing. Surround them with talent, discuss with them the path to success and what you are planning, get them to buy in.

LeBron led the charge and as the best player in basketball, everyone wants to jump right behind him. He made it easier for himself to achieve success by teaming up with other great players. Now former great players want to use that position to become sell outs themselves. Players have been given the power and it has had very mixed results. Demanded trades, collusion to team up etc are all abundant in this day and age. Players are the ones that play this game – very true, but does that give them the right to hold their franchises hostage? And what about players who were good once but are trying to make rosters based on reputation alone?

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Here is something new. If you weren’t good enough to earn a ring, live without one. If you actually cannot contribute to a team and are just taking minimum money for a spot on the bench – stay retired. There are a number of young stars in the D-League and around the world that would love that roster spot. Not for the arrogance of saying they have an NBA ring, but for the chance to become better and contribute.

Plenty out there will disagree and I hope you all come at me. I am sick to death of the rich getting richer. Let’s get the NBA back on track where everyone represented their team and did whatever it took to try and BRING A CHAMPIONSHIP THERE. Don’t go chasing one and don’t take the opportunity away from someone else who would actually be deserving of one.

Just because you had a terrific career, doesn’t mean you deserve a ring. Perhaps we as basketball fans should limit how much impact that has on the debate of “the best” and we can get these 40 year old bench warmers out of the league and into retirement before they actually cheapen their legacy.

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