On Betancourts and Kings

ESPN guru Bill Simmons describes the Rockets-Kings NBA trade deadline deal (Thomas Robinson and Francisco Garcia’s expiring contract for Patrick Patterson, Toney Douglas and Cole Aldrich) as an embarrassment for Sacramento in a recent Grantland exchange:

A lottery team giving up Robinson … I mean … it’s unconscionable…My buddy House and I always called these types of trades “pu pu platter” trades. You know when you order Chinese food in college and it seems like a great idea to order a giant pu pu platter for the table because you get so many things with it? Then the big pu pu platter arrives and it always sucks? You have lukewarm spareribs and overcooked chicken wings and soggy egg rolls? And you wish you had just spent that money on their best entrée? That’s what this trade was. Houston dealt lukewarm spareribs, overcooked chicken wings and soggy egg rolls for a piping-hot dish of kung pao chicken…[Houston GM Daryl Morey probably told his staff,] ‘If we get the fifth pick in last year’s draft for a bunch of crap, this will be the greatest moment of my career, and possibly my life.’

I’m hardly an NBA expert– the only name I’d heard of before this trade was actually Daryl Morey–but I doubt any of Patterson, Douglas, or Aldrich is totally worthless as a player. Even the quintessentially worthless baseball player, Yuniesky Betancourt (now a Phillie!), known for lousy offense, brutal defense, and being an occasional clubhouse malcontent, once hit .289/.308/.418 with a bWAR of 1.7. (Ah, 2007, we hardly knew ye.) And Betancourt’s career negative bWAR of -2.6 doesn’t mean you or I would be an improvement– unless you happen to be a quality AAA player waiting in the wings for potential recall by an MLB organization in the toughest pro league in the world; I’m not.

But we’re missing an even more important concern: Patterson, Douglas, and Aldrich– however Betancourtian they may be– aren’t warmed-over food or shit. Patrick Patterson was a Cub Scout, completed a Communications degree from Kentucky in three years, and has almost 136,000 Twitter followers. Toney Douglas‘s brother plays for the Atlanta Falcons but Toney chose basketball because, among other reasons, “I don’t like the sun like that.” Cole Aldrich was born on Halloween.

Patterson, Douglas, and Aldrich are people. They have mothers and fathers and brothers and lovers and supporters and detractors and probably even stalkers. They may make millions of dollars more than most of us ever will, but that doesn’t mean they deserve to be treated like leftovers when they fail. And if they didn’t make millions of dollars more than most of us ever will, that also wouldn’t mean they deserve to be treated like leftovers when they fail.

Please note that this isn’t an anti-stats rant. Smug arrogance isn’t exclusive to or even typical of sabermetric types or statheads; Bill Simmons isn’t a stats guy (unless you count the Reggie Cleveland All-Stars); and as Sam Miller recently wrote in ESPN: The Magazine about Wins Above Replacement (WAR), statistics can “tell a new story” and enhance rather than detract from a dimensional narrative. Nor is it an argument that the Rockets made a bad trade, or the Kings a good one, or even a non-horrible one. I have no idea, but I’ll take Bill Simmons’ word for it that they didn’t. What I won’t do is compare the Kings’ return to excrement if they didn’t.

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