The champagne stings the eyes. No getting around that. And it puts a stench in clothes as the locker room turns into a joyous sweatbox of smashed bodies.
And then the winners clean up, go home, and everyone starts over again.
The NBA offseason officially arrived Sunday as one team partied in Orlando and 29 others either began (the Magic) or continued (everyone else) to mount a response. Every team headed into summer confronting at least one major issue -- even the Lakers, and maybe the Lakers as much as anybody because their hard calls come with the microscope that follows a champion.
This is not summer 2010. Nothing is summer 2010 and its LeBronathon of speculation and franchises being affected for years by decisions from
In winning the title, the Lakers may have forced the call in favor of keeping the roster together. In reaching the Finals, the Magic may have done the same, because suddenly it is much too soon to let this group break apart without seeing where the potential leads. Likewise, in losing in the third round, the team with the MVP and the best record in the regular season, the Cavaliers, dictated that change was necessary.
That is why what happens next takes on major proportions, beyond the usual business of free agents and trades. Because of what has already happened.
A closer look at the storylines that will shape the offseason:
The news has already started to come out: talks that would send
O'Neal going anywhere is big. O'Neal going to the team that will count on him to help deliver a title is galactic. The Lakers and Heat did, and both got the prize. The Suns were more trying to jump-start something and got a productive 2008-09 season that increased his trade value but could not save the team.
If not Shaq, the Cavs will be under great pressure to do something. They probably could have had him at the trade deadline, but chose to keep expiring contracts and young players, neither of whom did anything in the playoffs, and Cleveland paid for it. To pass again, with the decreased risk of O'Neal in the final season of his contract, management better have something else lined up.
O'Neal is not an automatic to be dealt, but he is the likely candidate, ahead of
Except that Phoenix could make a major investment to re-sign Nash, 35, at a time when trading the 37-year-old O'Neal would be signaling a transition to the future. Any Shaq deal would likely be for prospects or picks or, as in the Cleveland option, the chance to save big money. Spending heavy to keep some older players in the final stages of their career -- the Suns are already aiming for the return of
Some free agents will still get a big payday. But others, many of whom have been pointing to this moment for years, anticipating their turn at the pot of gold, are about to get a door slammed in their face.
Players who thought they'd get a jackpot will have to settle for the mid-level exception. Players who thought they'd get the respect of the full mid-level will have to suck it up and take $3.5 million as opposed to $5.5 million. The middle class is about to get squeezed more than ever.
The worldwide financial crisis was a gloomy part of NBA life the entire season. It just has never been part of an offseason like this.
Just because all the coaching vacancies have been filled doesn't mean all the coaching issues have been resolved. Minnesota's new president,
It is not a particularly anxious moment in itself; McHale was merely the interim coach, sent down from his former role as personnel boss to replace the fired
This is not a test of owner
The Magic are stuck. Another massive salary vs. risking a very good thing. How can they pay him? vs. How can they lose him?
No negotiations will take place with Kobe Bryant. If he becomes a free agent, it will be with the intention of getting a new contract, not with leaving, a notion that had become obvious before he made it official during the Finals. He'll state a price, the Lakers will agree. End of negotiations.
Odom is the unique dimension, and teams never like to lose those because they create matchup problems, a 6-foot-10 backup small forward and power forward who handles the ball, rebounds and shoots with range. Ariza, though, is the starting small forward and better defensively and about five-and-a-half years younger. In no small consideration, he's likely to be cheaper, too.
Odom will obviously be taking a pay cut from the $11.4 million of 2008-09. How much of a reduction he is willing to take, based in part on competing offers, is the issue. After the champagne haze lifts, of course. There is no avoiding getting on with the hard decisions, even for the Lakers.