This opening paragraph from TrueHoop this morning caught my attention because it succinctly expressed a distinction that I've been mulling for some time now but haven't been able to frame very well.
The most interesting revelations in John Amaechi's 2007 memoir, "Man in the Middle," weren't about his life as a closeted NBA center, but rather Amaechi's observations about the mind of the pro athlete. Amaechi's passion for basketball didn't drive him to the NBA, a sentiment he says he shared with his teammates, as different as he was from them in virtually every other facet of life. According to Amaechi, NBA players do it for the money and fame, along with a few other ancillary benefits like groupies and self-worth.
I personally am not surprised by this at all, and if you read the rest of the post Amaechi goes on to take the position that he has nothing against people doing it for the money, what he has issue with is that we all keep buying in to some ridiculous sense of purity of purpose or nobility of the game.
If someone was willing to pay you $6 million a year, or $500,000 a month, what amount of BS would you be willing to take?
As Amaechi points out, it's simple human nature. My brother in law, who's a cardiac anesthesiologist, does not sacrifice most weekends and many nights with his young family because of the 'purity' of goodness of what he does. He does so because he gets paid damn well, and if he didn't he would find something else to do that paid just as well, because what else would offset the sacrifice to family time?
And yes, it is more complicated than that, but in many ways its not. The human brain is adept at finding compelling reasons to support anything it believes in. How many of you, when you've been asked the meaning of word you don't know, can easily come up with three or four potential meanings? How many of you have been in relationships with someone that ultimately ended and you looked back in amazement wondering how you could have deluded yourself into thinking they were different than the were? Or that you were different? How many of you have convinced yourself that a certain job or career field is the precise, perfect fit for you? And how many of you have noticed that your selected career field just happens to be at a higher pay rate than most of the others you were looking at?
It's human nature. It's who we are, for better or worse.
The point of this post isn't to get into the debate about whether this maxim is right or wrong, or whether NBA players are right or wrong to do what they do because of money (mostly).
The point of this post is to generate discussion about whether or not the other side of coin makes for more winning teams or not, the other side of the coin being that people sometimes really do love what they do, and the money is nice too (like my brother-in-law).
No one will ever doubt that KG loves him some money. And no one will ever doubt that KG loves him some basketball. He bleeds desparately-caring-about-winning. It's part of why we loved him so much, and sometimes why we hate his antics on the sidelines so much now that he's not here. If you look through the annals of NBA history you will see countless great players who exuded a similar passion for competition and success, as if everything else surrounding actually playing the game was the work (the interviews, the celebrity, the loss of privacy, etc). You also find countless role players who fit this bill.
On the other hand you can find some of the largest busts in NBA history littered with people with tremendous talent but suspect want-to. A couple may even be on the Wolves' roster right now. The role players who fit this mold are generally out of the league within a few years, their tantalizing talent an insufficient salve for their poor everything else. Shaddy McCants? Skita? Gerald Green? That dude we got from Philly for a couple years - Rodney Carney?
Again, in reality this is all on a spectrum - no player is so black and white.
My question to the greater community about this Timberwolves roster, then, is to what extent do people believe that a team with 'want-to' guys wins more, and further to what extent do teams with 'want-to' guys at key positions playing at a high level win more? I think of the Spurs, for some reason - Timmy D definitely is a want-to guy, along with Manu and almost all of their role players. The Jazz under Jerry Sloan. Chris Paul. Dwayne Wade. The Mavericks last year, and especially Dirk in the playoffs.
My sense is that last year the biggest want-to guys we had on the roster were Kevin Love and Anthony Tolliver (and Corey before we traded him). The additions of Rubio and Derrick Williams have me excited because I believe that these guys love their paychecks, but they love the competition and success just as much. The bigger picture is just as important as the individual picture, as in to get where they want to be as players they understand that the team has to do well (that the biggest stars are the stars of the best teams).
I don't know where Beasley is on this spectrum - I think he's actively maturing and maybe in four or five years he'll emerge as a super sixth man for somebody. Martell is definitely a want-to guy but seems mostly a role player without a role at this point (assuming he can stay healthy). AntRand is...well who knows what he is...Wes? Not buying his want-to. Wayne loves his paycheck. Malcolm Lee? That dude wants it. Lazar Haywood? I think he wants it too.
Luke Ridnour epitomizes the kind of player John Amaechi is talking about - a guy who plays basketball because someone will pay him millions of dollars. Doesn't mean he's a bad person or a bad player. What Luke is, though, is the perfect foil for what I'm wondering about - is part of the difference between Luke and Rubio simply that Rubio wants it more? Is part of the difference between Love and Beasley simply that Love wants it more? Such an attitude is infectious on teams. Perhaps this is in part why we passed on DMC?
Not that we'll see basketball anytime soon, but when we do, we'll see amongst the stars who loves the game and who simply loves the money (look for the Shawn Kemp v2.0's).
So Canis Hoopus - who wants it more and does it matter? Who should start between Beasley and Williams and why?