"Have expiring contract, will travel" reads the calling card of several men currently working in the NBA.But this year's howling example is Quentin Richardson, who has experienced more scene changes than the Stanley Cup during the summer of 2009. While shooting his way to within a year of free agency, "Q" has become the defining character in a league that waits to balance its books before assessing the balance of on-court power.
Have these financial variables created league-wide instability? Or do they represent the best anyone can muster given the prevailing circumstances? Before we take on those questions, let's take a not-exactly-quick inventory of Richardson's dip into welcome wagon hell.
OK, we're trotting back to June 25, a simpler time when "Q" was employed by the New York Knicks as a shooting guard who somehow managed to go from being an Adrian Dantley type in college to a really mediocre Dell Curry impersonator.
Richardson, who has one year and a bit more than $9 million remaining on a contract that should be credited to the Phoenix Suns and Mike D'Antoni's system, was swapped on NBA Draft day for notorious Memphis Grizzlies center Darko Milicic.
Darko, it should be noted, has one year and $7.5 million left on his deal, which suggests that this really smells like a basketball-related trade for the otherwise cap-clearing Knicks. So, those types of transactions aren't extinct, after all.
Let's fast forward to July 8. With the firecracker smoke still in his nostrils, Q is traded to the Los Angeles Clippers (his original NBA team) in exchange for the huge contract and voluminous baggage of 20-and-10 machine Zach Randolph. The teams weren't required to come with 10 percent of each other in salary swaps because the Grizzlies were under the salary cap and seemed content to use that space on Randolph.
Almost two whole weeks later, the Clips used Q's contract to bring in three inexpensive pieces from the Minnesota Timberwolves; two of those depth-creating players are Craig Smith and Sebastian Telfair. The third, Mark "Dancing Machine" Madsen, would come in handy if the Clips somehow manage to win the NBA championship and actually spring for a parade.
On Aug. 13, the T-Wolves used Richardson to snag backup center Mark Blount (and his expiring $7 million contract) from the Miami Heat. If he remains with the Heat, Q will attempt to earn his living sniping from long range after kick-outs from Dwyane Wade.
But sometimes these cost-cutting measures leave a bitter taste in the mouths of fans that's hard to remove. For example, the thrifty Phoenix Suns waved bye-bye to their only post defender, Kurt Thomas, in a 2007 deal with Seattle that also cost them two conditional first-round picks. It should be noted the Suns have coughed up several first-round selections that yielded fine players to other teams in exchange for cap relief ... before the Suns brought in a cap buster like Shaq.
Yeah, the practice of trading players with little or no regard to on-court consequences can be pretty unseemly. And it's not too difficult to imagine that salary cap and luxury tax crises can compromise the integrity of the league.
Sure, the Grizzlies' cap-conscious gift of Gasol was a nightmare for the legion of Laker-haters. But without variables like the salary cap and luxury tax, teams like the Lakers would be able to hoard even more talent than they already have.
Since Y2K, 11 teams have competed in the NBA Finals. That's not exactly a shout out to parity, but with one great player capable of keeping a team viable for many years, things could be a lot worse.
The efficacy of cap-and-tax systems throughout professional sports can be debated from now until kingdom come. But it's hard to argue against the notion that the teams with the sharpest personnel employees will find a way to prevail in spite of any system.
Perhaps Quentin Richardson will be able to play for one of these franchises some day.