Ricky Rubio's injury was the biggest news of the week, but I'm actually too sad to think about that yet. It's just too...Timberwolvesy of a story. So let's just focus on the regular trade deadline schputz, okay?
Anyways, on tap: the requisite Dwight spiel, helping Steve Nash find his voice, and some Kenyan scammers give Diek the double Mutumbo finger. Let's get to it.
1. The Logic of a Rental.
It seems unlikely that the Magic are going to trade their All-World center Dwight Howard by the March 15th deadline. Their statement win against the Bulls tonight showed that they have a chance to contend for a championship, or at the very least, a deep run in the playoffs. Either of those events might be enough to convince Dwight to stick around for the longterm. However, should Dwight Howard get traded, it won't be to one of his "preferred destinations" of New Jersey, Dallas or Los Angeles, as those teams have nothing to offer. Instead, Dwight would likely be unceremoniously shipped to a team that Dwight has no interest in signing long-term with. In effect, Dwight would be used as a rental, .
One of the teams that are consistently listed in trade rumors are my beloved Golden State Warriors. Golden State has the rare combination of pieces to actually make a midseason Dwight Howard trade work. They could offer a diverse package that would include one to two quasi stars like Steph Curry, Monta Ellis or David Lee, a promising young player like Klay Thompson or Ekpe Udoh, an expiring contract in Kwame Brown, and a second round draft pick in 2012 (or a first round in 2013). In return, the Warriors would receive Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu (and his albatross contract), and perhaps Jameer Nelson if Otis Smith feels like hooking it up. Many permutations of this trade have been discussed, so I won't bore you by listing all the possibilities here. Really, the only thing you need to know is Dwight has repeatedly said (1) he has no interest in being traded to Golden State, and (2) there is a zero-percent chance that he would resign long term. Yet, the Warriors remain adamant that they would take on Dwight as a rental. Well, then.
So I know what you're thinking: why the hell would a team agree to dismantle itself for a guy who's going to stick around for six weeks, then bolt to a major market? Two words: salary dump. If the Warriors unload their guys, and then Dwight, who will certainly command buku bucks from whichever team signs him, decides to split town, then they have something in the ballpark of $40 millione dollars to spend on free agency. At that point, it's about drafting wisely and using your money correctly. In other words: rebuilding.
With the Warriors sitting at a very blah 16-21 -- not bad enough to tank, but not good enough to be consistently competitive -- I think a radical change is probably in order. No player on the roster is truly "untouchable" (except perhaps Klay Thompson), so I think the Magic should help themselves to as much salary as they want. It would make sense, with an ownership group that I think is increasingly eager to rid itself of any remnants of the Cohan administration. But this is probably wishful thinking.
2. Patenting the Passive Aggressive Trade Demand.
Nine out of 10 doctors agree: Steve Nash needs to demand a trade.
Ol' Stevie, who's been doing hard time for Warden Sarver in Phoenix, is bravely leading a team that's going nowhere in the standings. Many currently mediocre teams would be vastly improved by a good point guard, and some have the pieces to arrange a trade. However, Steve insists that he's happy staying in Phoenix. According to Ken Berger, this is due more to Nash being "afraid of being the bad guy" than about wanting to be traded. A source close to Nash says that he'd like to go somewhere and win, but doesn't want to use the "Carmelo Anthony card" to get his way out of Phoenix.
Now, Stevie hails from Victoria, BC, which is a lovely town nestled in the Pacific Northwest region of the North American continent. It is said that the people who reside in this beautiful part of the world are among the most passive aggressive human beings on the face of the planet. Desires are never directly stated, just pointedly implied. What could be easily settled with a five minute frank conversation often is resolved through months of tortured non-talking. And don't even get me started with the street signs around these parts. Or the drivers. For a fairly confrontational Californian, I often struggle in this place.
However, it has allowed me to understand the mind of Ol' Stevie, and his perfectly stated passive aggressive trade request. It would be so anti Pacific Northwestern of Steve Nash to just walk up to Robert Sarver and say something along the lines of, "look, Robert, I love Phoenix, and this organization, but it's time for me to win, and I feel I've earned it." I think Sarver would appreciate the directness and the clarity of that message. But instead saying, "well, it'd be nice to win, but I don't want to be Carmelo Anthony"? Oh-so-passive aggressive. Oh so Pacific Northwest.
Anyways, free Steve Nash. Or free yourself, Steve Nash. That'd be easier.
3. The Mutombo Finger: Covered in Blood?
Fellow Diss-cussant Andrew Snyder directed me to this very interesting piece written by The Atlantic's Armin Rosen, and it's well worth the read. It provides an in-depth analysis of a UN report that came out in late January, which detailed the dealings of Bosco Ntaganda, a powerful Ugandan warlord who is being investigated for human rights violations, including child soldier conscription, widespread rape and trafficking conflict minerals in restive east Congo. The report listed individuals who had arranged, or attempted to arrange business transactions with Ntaganda. Included on that list was Dikembe Mutombo, 8-time All-Star and celebrated philanthropist. As the article details, Mutombo, and a group of Atlanta-area businessmen, were scammed by Ntaganda, who was working with a counterfeiting operation based in Kenya. Mutombo presented an opportunity to purchase over four tons of gold from a Kenyan village to a group of business associates, with the hope of selling that gold on the international market. The asking price was $10 million dollars, and two of Mutombo's partners were tasked with delivering the funds to the gold sellers. However, as Rosen explains, the group was scammed on a number of levels. The gold was not in Kenya, but instead in Goma, the conflict-riddled capital of east Congo. Once the group arrived, and realized that they were dealing with Ntaganda, it was clear that they were being scammed. Eight of the $10 million dollars was lost to the warlord, who was flanked by Congolese soldiers, and the other $2 million was confiscated by customs officials at the airport. In the end, Mutombo and his bumbling associates received no gold, and lost all $10 million dollars. Pretty embarrassing.
What really interested me about this entire saga was the sheer lack of caution or care Mutombo and his associates showed to what clearly seemed like a scam, and one conducted on a very high level. A lack of jobs and educational opportunities in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa have led to a proliferation of informal economies, many of which are supported through criminalized means. One of the most recognizable, of course, is the so-called "419" Scam, which originated in Nigeria. Most of us have received one of these scam emails; if you help a wealthy Nigerian who has fallen out of favor with the government needs your help moving millions of dollars and/or from his country to an offshore account, you'll receive a hefty reward for your services. While most of us are smart enough to immediately see these emails as scams, the 419 operation has been more successful than one might think. While reports vary widely, the Secret Service, who handle international scams of $50,000 or more, claim that an individual 419 scammer can expect to receive one or two responses for every 1000 emails sent, all of which yield several thousand dollars in returns.
In many ways, Mutombo was one of these unlucky sods who fell for a 419 scam of grand proportions. The article highlights a number of areas that clearly indicate that Mutombo and his associates were dealing with scammers, such as the gold not being in Nairobi (as previously promised), and (forged) customs papers that stated that the gold was coming from an area of the Congo where exporting minerals had been outlawed by the government. It seems as if Mutombo and company either didn't do their research, or more troublingly, knew they were going to be doing business with a shady character involved in conflict minerals. That, of course, would indicate that Mutombo was more interested in profit than ethics -- a concerning revelation considering that Mutombo is one of the NBA's most celebrated philanthropists for his work in his native Congo.
With the West temporarily focused on Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army, who operate in the same area, and involve themselves in the same activities as Bosco Ntganada's forces, we cannot take this report about Mutombo ligthly. Right now, he exists somewhere between Janella Spears, an Oregon woman who sent $400,000 to a 419 scammer, and actress and model Naomi Campbell, whose gifts from Liberian president Charles Taylor have come under great scrutiny by the Hague. Let's see how this unfolds.