On this day last year, James Posey was celebrating a championship. Boston had defeated Los Angeles, thanks in no small part to his contributions. He'd hit the clutch shots, he'd played the good D, and he was ready to collect his reward. The Celtics, however, wouldn't oblige him. With enough bloated contracts on their hands already, they gave him the standard 'thanks but no thanks' line. As much as they wanted to keep him, they simply couldn't afford him.
Down in the Bayou, fans were experiencing another kind of euphoria. Their team hadn't pulled off the Celtics' feat but showed signs of a very bright future. There were terrific, young players on the roster, the organization's financial situation seemingly improved by the day, and Hornets basketball was relevant for the first time since the Charlotte days. The roster did have some holes, but the biggest hole was easy to spot- backup front court- and New Orleans had the money to do some nice repair work.
Any other year, this might have been a routine summer for the Hornets. Assess needs, locate financially viable remedies, acquire said remedies. The front office had done a remarkable job with draft picks in the 15-25 range in years past, and the Hornets appeared to have enough money to pick up a couple just sub-midlevel kind of guys. But this wasn't any other year. The Hornets went into the offseason in a place they'd really never been before- the national spotlight. They were now linked with the big name free agents; it made sense that any player in the league would want to come play with Chris Paul, David West, and Tyson Chandler.
Suddenly, filling needs morphed into best player available, a strategy that makes sense for lottery draft picks, but not for acquiring free agents for a bench. A lottery pick is about upside; the idea is that the player can grow into the best player on your team, into an All-Star, into more than what everyone thinks he is. And that works because evaluations of college players are never entirely accurate. It doesn't work for veteran free agents, because there is no potential for evolution. A free agent bench acquisition is all about a specific role, about bringing in a specific skill set that nobody else on the team has. When the Hornets began to be linked with James Posey, the first thought every Hornet fan had, whether they said it or not, was about the future of Julian Wright. He'd just completed a magnificent postseason run, both offensively and defensively. The story was Posey would "mentor" him, but everyone knew Wright needed minutes more than mentoring. Posey simply didn't meet one of the Hornets two, or arguably three, biggest needs. I really, really hoped the Hornets would chase both Rony Turiaf (whose price they could've easily exceeded and still gotten a good deal) and Kelenna Azubuike (though GSW matched, LAC's offer was definitely a lowball).
But though it wasn't the perfect move, it was still an acquisition of a solid, if overpriced, role player. I outlined the ways in which New Orleans could come out on top of the deal. The basic gist was if everything fell into place, if Paul improved, if West stayed the same, if Chandler stayed the same, if JuJu continued to improve, and if the Hornets could acquire an average big, then the Posey move could be the one to put them over the top. He brought tremendous defensive rebounding, alleviating the need for a higher end big man. And he brought defense.
The Posey deal was flawed. But its ultimate measuring stick was never going to be the performance of James Posey. The astute observer could see that before a game was even played. No matter what happened, the Posey deal's verdict would be given by the performance of the team as a whole. And the team as a whole, from Tyson Chandler to Byron Scott to Julian Wright, was the thing that failed. Posey did what was asked of him, even if there were bumps in the road. He delivered right around his career PER, his career shooting, his career rebounding. His specialty had always been help defense and not man defense; we, as fans, were probably a bit naiive in glossing over that.
The front office's mistake was not in calculating the upside. I'm sure they saw what I saw- if the parts fell in place, 2008-2009 could have seen a Finals run by the Hornets. Posey's averages and defense could have been the final piece of the puzzle. That truly was the right call on upside, even looking back at it now through the shattered rear view mirror of broken ankles and 58 point losses.
The mistake was in calculating the risk. Posey did not fill a primary need, and at those dollars, locked up the financial situation for years down the road. In other words, the Hornets would have no flexibility whatsoever if it didn't pan out, for whatever reason, Posey or otherwise. The front office surely saw this, but they didn't appreciate its full meaning.
The Hornets got into a space shuttle last summer. In lieu of escape doors, they purchased a shiny new booster, hoping to travel far, to reach heights they'd never dreamed of. Now they're in mid-flight, the booster's working how they expected, but there's been a gas leak. They're pretty much in a ticking time bomb, and there's no way out.
Who's ready for Year 2 of James Posey?