Shoals Unlimited: Spend Now, Worry Later Is En Vogue Again Thanks to the Celtics

Welcome to Shoals Unlimited, where Bethlehem will post a long-form piece on basketball once a week.
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↵This spring, a Boston Celtics team built around three stars, two of whom had been acquired the preceding summer, won a title. In the NBA Finals, they bested the Lakers, whose season really took off when they traded for Pau Gasol. ↵

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↵Over the last few months, we've seen Elton Brand head to Philly and give that young team instant credibility; Baron Davis and Marcus Camby make the Clippers into a force to be reckoned with; Ron Artest join up with Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming in Houston; the Wizards commit gigantic amounts of money to the re-signing of Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison; and the Bucks' crowded frontcourt add former Net Richard Jefferson. Even Memphis, a team currently looking to slash payroll, made a "why not" run at restricted free agent Josh Smith. ↵

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↵It's no coincidence. While teams like Detroit and Portland have remained committed to intricate, shrewd personnel management, the Celtics have revived the time-honored trend of going for big-name vets now, worrying about it later. What remains to be seen is how long it will take for teams to remember that this strategy rarely works. ↵

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↵The Celtics were a perfect storm: Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were available, hungry and meshed well with Pierce (well enough, in Allen's case). Complementary players emerged, the team rallied around defense, and Boston survived a grueling postseason run. Until they ran into the Celtics, the Lakers, too, appeared to have lucked out: They got Gasol for nothing, and found him perfectly suited for the triangle. ↵

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↵But what about Shaquille O'Neal to Phoenix? Jason Kidd to Dallas? Both teams faced tough first-round matchups, and might have fared no better with their pre-trade team. Yet they looked markedly worse, lacked chemistry—Shaq gets in Nash's way; Kidd and Josh Howard don't work well together—and now have salary-cap disasters to deal with. What's more, as Suns owner Robert Sarver recently told The ↵Arizona Republic: "We made a decision a year ago that this was a chance to make a hard run for a championship and because of that, this year and last year will not be profitable." ↵

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↵So when all these teams went star-crazy this summer, were they all planning on a Celtics-style fairy tale? Did they not notice that the Lakers sacrificed nothing but dead weight to get Gasol? It's ironic that, when some teams are supposedly obsessed with making sure they have cap space for LeBron James in 2010, others have decided to go in the opposite direction. It's actually made for at least one marriage of convenience: The Bucks, looking for some star power, took Jefferson off the hands of the Nets, rumored to be in the running for LeBron. ↵

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↵Obviously, Garnett, Shaq and Kidd are bigger names than anyone to have shifted locales this summer; LeBron and Dwyane Wade top all of them, too. But we're still talking about max deals, or at least tens of millions of dollars. Gasol, Brand and Arenas/Jamison are examples of both win now and spend now, and aren't nearly the long-term investment that, say, Chris Bosh would be in 2010. ↵

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↵The lone exception to this rule is Artest, who, while up for an extension next summer, will never command the salary he deserves. But combining Artest, T-Mac and Yao raises the other peril of big name-chasing, the one that the Celtics were most lucky to avoid: That of chemistry proving elusive, or egos colliding—or, for a young team on the rise like Philly, the chance that bringing in a star might disrupt what they've thus far developed. ↵

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↵There's never going to be that kind of problem on a carefully-constructed team like the Blazers or Pistons, or for a roster that's been strip-mined to accommodate LeBron. The former is darn hard to do, the latter quite possibly futile. However, neither jams up a team's future, or poses as many possible consequences, as the trend the Celtics have wrought. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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