One of the biggest misconceptions fans make is that Basketball players and other pro athletes don't play hard. Most of them do care about the love of the game; and the ones that don't care (no shots in this post, so don't look for them) speaks to their personalities more than the fact they're professionals. The saying goes, "Money doesn't change you. It makes you more of what you already are." Those players were going to be that way regardless if they were hoopers or CEOs. Anyway, evidence of most professionals giving it 100% isn't in just diving for loose balls, blocking a shot then finishing on the ensuing break, or hanging one's head when a buzzer-beater attempt clangs off the back rim. Some of the better players in the game have shown how much Basketball is ingrained in their souls without a single dribble. More after the random picture...
In any social setting, people gravitate to certain people. Everyone has a crew of friends that will be with them for life. In the NBA, some of the better players have had that one best friend on their team that seems to keep them relatable and sane. Those players, in my opinion, gives them a feeling of normalcy as their teammates depend on their production. They also need those friends to keep them from getting too high from praise or too low from criticism. As a result, negotiations between front office and star tend to indirectly involve that best friend—usually resulting in hindering a trade. In the second pickup game post, I referenced the relationship between Tracy McGrady and Mike Miller. They were close friends, but McGrady scoffed at the idea of parting with his homeboy. Because of it, Orlando (at the time) couldn't move Miller; who was sought-after by a number of teams. Only those GMs know the deals that were possible had McGrady come to grips with the business side of the NBA. Finally, McGrady was dealt to Houston (shouts to Reece Gaines).
The other big name in that deal also had a best friend whom he was reluctant to separate from. Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley were amigos inseparables, as if Mobley was the Paul Bearer to Francis' Undertaker. Once Orlando sent Mobley to the Clippers, Francis' play suffered. He went from perennial All-Star to bench rider with rickety knees. From this, to being just a salary throw-in to complete trades, Raef Lafrentz style. I don't know if Cuttino's departure directly affected the drastic decline in Francis' play, but it certainly is noticeable. And on a personal note, as a Maryland native and resident, it hurts me that his falloff was so swift. It's different from Iverson's because it seems AI has had a "full" career (minus a ring). It's also different from Marbury's because there aren't any public emotional problems. You know, Francis isn't eating Vaseline and crying.
Remember when the Lakers were flirting with a trade for Jason Kidd? Kobe was threatening abandonment, and the front office was getting desperate. But yet, they stood firm. Part of it may be them waiting on Andrew Bynum to develop; but the Lakers are still waiting on that. Let's entertain my "friends" theory. The only teammate that's been with Kobe through all the Lakers' titles this millennium is Derek Fisher; and is probably the only teammate the Mamba doesn't have his guard up when talking to him. Bringing Kidd in would have likely meant Fisher to be dealt or reduced minutes from the bench. Would Kobe's play have suffered? Doubtful, considering it took two fingers, back spasms, and an injured ankle to finally get him not to play Basketball. Still, it's obvious Fisher and Kobe have a different bond than any of the other Lakers—which is saying something considering Artest and Odom are childhood friends.
With Summer 2010 looming, do the superstar players have that friend that will keep them with their home franchises? Do Lebron, Wade, Bosh, and others have a loyalty to their current teams through a teammate? Given the real possibility that the Lakers could repeat, that would mean none of them would win a title; leaving all but Wade without one for yet another year. Camaraderie is important, but the "B" in NBA is more about Business than Basketball. Chemistry and friendship are two different ideals, and I know I'd trade the latter for the former if it meant I'd hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy in June. "How many of us have them?"