I was given Bill Simmons's The Book of Basketball for Christmas and I'm almost through it. At some point I might feel compelled to offer my thoughts on it. Right now I give it a 'B', I think. There's some amazing stuff in it, for sure. His careful argument why Bill Russell was a better basketball player than Wilt Chamberlain is brilliant and pretty much settles the debate for all time as far as I'm concerned, and is alone is worth the price of the book and the time to read it. I won't go too deeply into the short-comings but reading 700 pages of someone so prone to gimmicks and crutches (Vegas references, porn references, 80s pop culture etc.) can get to be a bit much. One of his favourite habits is to quote himself. He's by far his most-quoted source. Which is fine; it's his book, and like I said, it's pretty good so no big deal.
I only raise it because - what the hell! - I'm going to quote myself. There's been a lot of Bosh trade buzz lately and could be more with the trade deadline looming Feb. 13th. For those not already aware, there was a report on ESPN.com that the Houston Rockets are trying to land Bosh and another in the New York Post that the Lakers would offer Andrew Bynum in a deal that couldn't be completed until the summer because Bynum is a base year compensation guy.
Some of you may recall that this past summer it was mentioned here that Bynum might be the kind of sign-and-trade prospect the Raptors should seek out if it comes to that; this stuff isn't rocket science.
No, what it really comes down to is philosophy as in: what kind of organization does MLSE want to be?
When the season started I wrote a preview that started this way:
The 2009-10 NBA season starts tonight for the Toronto Raptors, but the organization - specifically Bryan Colangelo and Chris Bosh - is already looking to its future.
The two men define the franchise heading into its 15th season, their own long-term prospects bound together. And how things play out will likely shape the club for years to come.
Are the Raptors bound for the NBA's upper class, ready to flex their uber-rich ownership's considerable financial muscle to add talent in search of playoff success with Bosh as the focal point on the floor and Colangelo the architect?
Or is yet more retooling ahead, with ownership's eye on the bottom line as much as any on-court prize in the increasingly have and have-not NBA, the long-term presence of Bosh and Colangelo very much in doubt?
The point was and is and always will be this season is that pretty soon MLSE - the pension plan owned sports conglomerate that owns the Leafs and the FC and the Air Canada Centre - is going to have make a call on whether they're going to be serious about competing for a championship in the NBA and spend well into the luxury tax territory to do it or if their going to pretend to compete - which is to say spend up to the tax and no further.
Choosing to do the latter is a choice to be just where they are now and have always been, even in good years: hoping to make the playoffs and maybe, with the right breaks, lasting into the second round.
Right now there are five or maybe six - if you count the Dallas Mavericks - serious title contenders in the NBA: Los Angeles, Boston, Orlando, Cleveland and San Antonio. All of them are way over the luxury tax threshold of $69.2-million. The tax is dollar-for-dollar, remember. So it cost the Lakers $114-million or so to have a payroll of $91-million. They also forgo participating in the escrow program where teams under the tax divide the tax money the 'over' teams pay. Call that $6-million (because I have a fetish for round numbers) and the Lakers are spending $120-million to keep Kobe happy and defend their title.
Ignoring whether Chris Bosh will re-sign with the Raptors, should they re-sign him? If they want to compete for a championship the answer is plain as day: Yes you sign him; but you don't stop there. You keep adding pieces around him. You spend the full mid-level this summer and the summer after, if you have to. Not recklessly, mind you, but you make it obvious that this is a franchise willing to continuously add to their talent base and build around Bosh.
If that's the signal that's sent then would Bosh sign here? He just might. I think his ego is big enough (and I don't think that as a bad thing) to believe with the right help he can lead a team that can make it to the NBA Finals. And with the right help he probably could.
But winning in any serious way takes talent and talent costs money; more than you can get without venturing into luxury tax territory.
What will MLSE do?
Having plugged Bill Simmons' book, I'll plug my own. It's called LeafsAbomination. I co-wrote it with Dave Feschuk. It's obviously about that other team in some other sport, but it's worth reading for Raptors fans because it takes a close look organization that owns both teams and TFC; none of which - and hey, maybe it's just a coincidence? - are poised to threaten for any championships.
I don't know what will happen at the trade deadline and certainly not this summer. If Bosh gets the assurance the Raptors are ready to spend with the big boys, maybe he stays. If the Raptors prove that they have the bones of a team that can make a step - let's say by winning 45-to-48 games and doing something other than laying down in the first-round of the playoffs - maybe Colangelo can convince people whose reason for being is to administer teachers pensions in the province of Ontario that it's worth shredding more of their money in pursuit of an elusive and expensive goal.
Raptors fans will then learn if they're investing in a team that has grand dreams, or an organization that just wants to take their money in exchange for entertaining them.
Thanks to Bill Simmons I know the answer to who was better, Russell or Chamberlain, and I think I know the answer to that one too.