At first glance, it would seem strange that the Celtics' acquisition of Marquis Daniels — a small move to secure a bench swingman — would take a week and a half (and counting!) to complete. But in the crazy world of NBA free agency, nothing is ever easy.
For the Celtics, the motivation is simple. They need to lock up a backup for captain Paul Pierce, and Daniels is their guy. He's available on the open market, and he's cheap.
For Daniels, therein lies the problem. He's a bit too cheap — the Celtics have only a biannual exception worth $1.9 million available to sign him, and that's a little too small a price tag for 14 points and five rebounds a night. Daniels wants a sign-and-trade deal — with fewer salary cap problems, the Pacers can offer him more money.
No one's at fault here. Both Daniels and the Celtics are in very understandable positions. Breaking down the Pacers' motives is where things get a little tricky.
The Pacers are run by a man who knows a thing or two about winning championships. His name is Larry Bird. It's pretty easy to win titles as a player if your name is Larry Bird, but as an executive, it gets a bit complicated. There are, of course, exceptions, but there are basically two ways to build a winning team in the NBA.
You can try to build for right now, by going after the best players available and spending big money on big contracts. That method works for Boston and L.A. Or you can build for the future, picking up a bunch of expiring contracts now, losing in the short-term, and then dropping the dead weight in 2010 and going after the marquee free agents with all your newfound cap space.
Indiana defies the two-party system. Larry Bird has no grandiose plan to win now, and he has no plan to win later, either. He's stuck in the middle of the road, setting up camp, and it's a difficult place for an NBA franchise to be. No one likes winning 36 games — you're not competing for a title, but you're also not landing high lottery picks, so you can't find the talent to improve in the future. The sad reality is that 36-win seasons have a way of breeding more 36-win seasons. Larry Bird is stuck in basketball purgatory.
If they were in a big market like New York or Chicago, or in a nice city with warm weather and a fun social life like Phoenix or Miami, the Pacers would have no trouble. NBA stars love those cities, and the free agents would flock to Larry's Pacers in 2010 and beyond. But in Indianapolis, that won't work. You don't often see celebrities move to Indianapolis.
For the Pacers, the only way out of basketball purgatory is taking baby steps.
What the Pacers want is promising young basketball players. They want to build a winning team by doing the little things right — they want to find those 24-year-old youngsters with potential and build.
The Pacers have Danny Granger, who gave them 25.8 points and 5.1 rebounds a night last year, under contract through 2014. Yes, that's right, 2014 — they have a star swingman under their control while in his prime at 26, and they can keep him locked in until he's 31. Now they just need to find the right complementary pieces to fit around him.
Larry Legend is smart. He knows that the Celtics aren't offering him those pieces — not for Marquis Daniels, and not for anyone else. The Celtics aren't giving up young talent.
Which is why finding a third team to complete the Daniels sign-and-trade deal makes sense. The Pacers need young talent and have a good bench player; the Celtics want a good bench player and have expiring contracts. Connect the dots — what Larry and his old buddy Danny Ainge need to do is find a GM willing to give up a good young player for the expiring deals of Brian Scalabrine and/or Tony Allen.
That GM might not exist. And if he doesn't, this whole sign-and-trade idea surrounding Marquis Daniels might just be a pipe dream. Unfortunately for Daniels, he could easily end up stuck with just a $1.9 million deal in Boston.
For the Celtics, that would be for the best. Dumping their expiring deals now is a risky proposition, anyway.
If this trade never happens, Daniels will lose out. He's a good player, and he deserves more than a couple million bucks for his services.
But that's the price you pay for the chance to win a title.
Marquis Daniels has committed, one way or another, to playing in Boston next season. He's coming here to be a winner, and it's hard to put a price tag on that.
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