SERGE SIGNS ON

WHY IS IBAKA SO HAPPY?

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - GE­ORGE DIAZ

Fair warn­ing: Here comes an old man “get-off-my-lawn” rant.

The NBA is no longer a sports league. It is a priv­i­leged fra­ter­nity of blue­bloods al­ways angling for perks, es­pe­cially friends with ben­e­fits.

They will be true to your team only if it in­volves a bet­ter sit­u­a­tion, and big money. There’s al­ways a play to en­gage a new BFF, and dump yes­ter­day’s fav like stinky garbage. Mean­while, own­ers are throw­ing crazy dol­lars at play­ers, hop­ing some­thing sticks.

J.J. Redick, the old Magic guy, is go­ing to make $23 mil­lion a year. That’s a nice uptick from his $7,377,500 salary last sea­son.

Some dude named Joe In­gles signed a fouryear, $52 mil­lion deal with the Utah Jazz. In­gles av­er­aged a siz­zling 7.1 points in 24 min­utes last sea­son.

And Serge Ibaka — an­other old Magic guy, al­beit briefly — signed a three-year, $65 mil­lion deal with the Toronto Rap­tors. That’s the price one pays for a de­cent but not a game-changer kind of guy, as Ibaka was with the Magic.

And in the epit­ome of Mo­nop­oly money arms races, Steph Curry signed an ex­ten­sion with the Golden State War­riors, a con­tract worth $201 mil­lion over five years. For per­spec­tive, Curry makes more each day than roughly 95 per cent of Amer­i­cans make in a year.

At least Curry is a su­per­star who adds tremen­dous value to the fran­chise. But there are a lot of other guys who are steal­ing piles of money while shift­ing the bal­ance of power in the NBA way West.

Ev­ery pro ath­lete should grab as much money as he or she can dur­ing their ca­reer. The shelf-life is al­ways short for big pay­days. But the op­tics here are bad for the NBA. Or at least ex­tremely silly.

The petty per­sonal skir­mishes are rub­ber­neck­ing eye candy on the in­ter­net. A year af­ter Kevin Du­rant broke up with Rus­sell West­brook and the Ok­la­homa City Thun­der, LeBron James has jumped into the fray by not be­ing an ac­tive “re­cruiter” for the Cleve­land Cava­liers.

The spec­u­la­tion is that LeBron is set­ting him­self up to take his tal­ents else­where again, which of course will es­ca­late the suck­ing up by mem­bers of those priv­i­leged NBA fra­ter­ni­ties.

This in­side skinny in­volves LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo An­thony and Chris Paul — all free agents next sea­son — star­ring in a re­make of “Co­coon,” when they all come to­gether to try to win a ti­tle when ev­ery­body is 57-years-old.

My math may be off, but you get the drift. The BFFs plan is both good and bad for the league. A hand­ful of su­per­pow­ers, with the vast ma­jor­ity of teams pan­han­dling along I-4, ask­ing “brother can you spare a power for­ward?”

All this drama seems to be a fab­u­lous busi­ness model. The NBA set the all-time reg­u­lar-sea­son at­ten­dance record for a third con­sec­u­tive sea­son, with 21,997,412 fans in the stands.

But the busi­ness model starts to go off the rails be­cause of the ob­vi­ous com­pet­i­tive im­bal­ance. It’s now ge­o­graph­i­cal, even if by cir­cum­stance. The West is the power grid, with stars like Paul Ge­orge, Paul Mill­sap and oth­ers bolt­ing from the East. Some met­rics have 22 of the league’s best 30 play­ers in the West.

The free agency dy­nam­ics also put the squeeze on teams that don’t have the star-power to lure other stars.

Yes, that would be the Or­lando Magic, a fran­chise that can no longer sell the weather and no state in­come taxes as a re­cruit­ing pitch. Their “come down and play with El­frid Pay­ton and Nik Vuce­vic!” game plan doesn’t seem to be work­ing well ei­ther.

In de­fence of the Magic, they don’t have crazy money to throw at play­ers this off-sea­son. A good chunk of the salary cap is eaten up by the four-year, $72 mil­lion deal they gave Bis­mack Biy­ombo last sea­son. He av­er­aged seven re­bounds and six points in 22 min­utes of play. At the risk of sound­ing like Cap­tain Ob­vi­ous, that doesn’t seem to be work­ing out ei­ther.

In the mean­time, brother can you spare a few bucks, Mr. Curry?

FRANK GUNN, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Rap­tors for­ward Serge Ibaka and Rap­tors pres­i­dent Ma­sai Ujiri smile as they hold a jersey dur­ing a news con­fer­ence in Toronto on Fri­day.

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