The prevailing thought in my mind during this transaction-heavy week in the NBA were the words of Chris Paul, uttered after one of the losses that are piling up on the Clippers (I think it was against Boston; I'm losing track).
"It's not about the first move," Paul said. "It's about the counter."
That's a basic principle of the NBA, whether it's running a play or building a team. What are you going to do when your initial option is taken away? How are you going to react to changing circumstances?
From that perspective it means the biggest news on Trade Deadline Day wasn't Dwight Howard and the Magic (what a non-story that turned out to be) -- it was about the reaction by the Nets in their bid to retain Deron Williams.
The story in L.A. wasn't about the Lakers adding Ramon Sessions, it was about them losing Derek Fisher as a result. And we'll see the ramifications of the counter-move in New York, where reportedly Mike D'Antoni's suggestion that the Knicks trade Carmelo Anthony resulted in D'Antoni being out of a job and the brief run of Linsanity closing for good.
The Knicks should have learned from the brief run of Linsanity that they can win games, make a lot of money and put on a good show with Jeremy Lin running the offense. Lin wasn't going to lead the Knicks to a championship -- then again, what evidence is there that Carmelo can? And Carmelo's price tag is a lot higher than Lin's. From a business perspective, Lin makes much more sense.
But the caveat is that so far Lin can flourish only in D'Antoni's offense. You might not be able to win a championship with D'Antoni's system, but you can win playoff series. The scoreboard total shows D'Antoni has won more playoff series coaching the way he coaches than Carmelo has won playing the way he plays. (It's 5-2.) Apparently that's not good enough for the Knicks, even though it's better than anything they've had in New York for the past decade.
The Knicks continue the delusional belief that they're an elite franchise that belongs on a tier with the Celtics and Lakers -- or even the Bulls and Spurs -- and they've fooled themselves into thinking Carmelo will be the one who gets them there. When will the backlash come, and what consequences will it bring?
The Nets just had their day of reckoning. They thought they were about to get a championship-contending core of Dwight Howard and Deron Williams. But when Dwight opted in for the final year of his contract it left them scrambling to put more pieces around Williams and sending a first-round pick to Portland to get Gerald Wallace. Even though the pick could be as high as fourth in this year's anticipated draft, I'm not as opposed to this deal as so many are, because their goal is to win games immediately to appease Williams.
What does a draft pick mean to a player? A draft pick can't grab a rebound or set a screen. And when that pick eventually morphs into a rookie it means someone whose hand needs to be held through the learning stages. Deron Williams turns 28 in June. Do you think he wants to be a babysitter next season?
The Trail Blazers went 15-8 in the games Wallace played after he was traded to Portland last season. He might have enough in that banged-up body to give the Nets a boost this year. This move wasn't as good as the slick Plan B Billy King pulled off last year, when he nabbed Williams after his season-long pursuit of Carmelo fell through, but at least it's a step forward.
The Lakers clearly made a talent upgrade in acquiring Ramon Sessions from Cleveland. Getting a younger, more athletic point guard was a natural move for Los Angeles. And dispatching the rest of Fisher's contract for luxury tax relief was the logical next step with Fisher facing limited playing time.
But what will be the consequences of losing the man who was Kobe Bryant's backcourt partner through five championships? What will they do without a voice that could command the team's attention whenever he spoke out, be it during a midseason slump or a fourth-quarter timeout in the NBA Finals? We've become accustomed to the Lakers having an edge in playoff experience; quietly they're down to only four players with championship rings.
If the Lakers don't think the loss of a veteran can hurt them, all they have to do is look down the Staples Center hallway to the Clippers' locker room. That would be the same locker room that was closed to the media for an hour following their blown game against Phoenix Thursday night, as the players attempted to sort out their 11th loss in 20 games since Chauncey Billups was lost for the season with an Achilles injury.
On its surface losing an aging guard playing out of position and shooting the ball at one of the lowest percentages of his career should not have been a devastating blow to the Clippers. In reality the Clippers have turned into a mess in crunch time, strictly dependent on spreading the floor and letting Chris Paul try to beat his man, desperately missing Billups' late-game moxie and automatic free-throw shooting.
They brought in Nick Young to score. He's a guy who can get 16 points a game. What he can't do is bring a wealth of experience or provide leadership. It was the best the Clippers could do so late in the game.
Sometimes it's not about the first move or the counter, it's about the time left on the clock.