For every team around the league that isn't undefeated, February 16th 2012 is an important date. It is the trade deadline of the 2011-12 season and the last chance for teams to make big changes to their lineups in preparation for the second half of the season. The half where some calls the "real" season.
In the case of the New Zealand Panthers, that is no different. Despite making big time roster moves all season long, with the latest being the acquisition of Steve Nash back in late December. Despite that, however, the Panthers haven't exactly been great. Sure they've dominanted the weaker opponents, but more often recently, they've been losing a lot to playoff caliber teams, and is looking more like a team contending for the 8th spot more than their current 3rd seed in the conference. Something has to be done and the owner Leo Lai hasn't exactly been shy about gunning for deals.
"Play that again" Lai said as he spat out the old piece of gum to the trash can before putting a fresh piece in, watching intently at the screen.
"See that there? We have a problem covering this and that's been a big issue" Larry Brown paused the tape and scribbled something onto the touchscreen monitor. When it comes to basketball related technology, Lai isn't hesitent to spend to ensure that the best equipment is used.
After watching the rest of the tape for another two, three times, Brown looked at the clock and stopped the screen. "Alright guys, we got a game tonight so get some rest and I'll see you at the arena later. Dismissed"
As the guys got up, stretched, yawned and filed out of the room, Lai turned to Brown and motioned for him to go to his office, afterall, the trade deadline was tomorrow and they need to get working. On their way out, however, he notices there was one player left in the room, walking towards him. It was Steve Nash.
"What's up, Steve? Not heading home yet? We need you for tonight's game man, you should get some rest" Lai asked as he turned towards Nash
"I got a meeting with you today, remember?" Nash said
"It was today? Oh christ I'm sorry Steve, completely forgot about it" Lai smacked himself on the head as he took a quick thought, "Alright, I guess you should be in this meeting as well." He turned to Larry Brown, "Let's go Larry"
Once in the comforts of his office, Lai motioned for his secretary to pour them some coffee, and sat down. It was a plush office, but there was no time to relax. They had work to do.
"So, Steve, how can I help you" Lai asked as he took the cup of coffee from his secretary Michelle.
"Well, I've only been here for one and a half months or so, but this is a really professional organization, everyone's really good around here and stuff, I just want to say thanks for making me a part of the Panthers organization." Nash said
"You're welcome! We are glad to have you here as well" Lai replied
"The thing is, if you are willing, I want to extend my contract immediately."
The words "yes, let's do that" stopped the moment Lai was about to say them, and there was an awkward silence in the room.
"...is there a problem, sir?" Nash asked, breaking the silence.
Lai took a deep breath, and sighed
"Steve," Lai said, looking solemnly at Nash, "I got a question for you"
Nash raised his eyebrows, puzzled but waited for it,
"Do you think with this group of guys, we can win the title?"
"Well, we don't know unless we try..." Nash began to answer, but was cut off
"Steve? Do you think we can win a title with this group?" Lai asked again, a little more firmly than before,
"...No, I don't" Nash finally admitted, "But I'm sure we can improve as a whole and be a real contender in a few seasons!"
"Steve, you are 38 years old, Allen's 36, and you guys have 16 years of NBA millage on your legs, I don't think we can afford to talk about maybes in 3, 4 seasons time." Lai stated
"I don't want to waste away the last years of your career, or Allen's for that matter. I want to win as badly as any of you, and we gotta be smart about doing that. Being blindfully optimistic isn't going to help." Lai concluded,
"So you are saying you're not going to extend me right now because we won't win it all?"
"Yeah, that's what I'm getting at. Look, lets play out the season, see what happens and then decide what happens, ok?"
"I could live with that, but you're not worried that I might leave?" Nash asked
"Steve, if you want to leave, that's your wish, and I'll respect that." Lai replied, "Anyhow, lets look at the present. The reason why I called you in here as well is that, as you know, the trade deadline is tomorrow"
"You want my opinion on potential deals?"
"Exactly. Now, What do you think about...Dwight Howard"
Both Nash and Larry Brown looked up immediately. Brown, who's mind had been wandering off while Lai and Nash were having their discussions, suddenly snapped back into the present.
"You are thinking big right there" Brown said
"Well, it's not just me, everybody in the league's asking for him, arn't they?"
"Can you get him?" Nash asked
"That'll depend if Orlando takes the offer..."
The game against the Sixers went well, as Iguodala's potential game winner clanked off the rim badly at the buzzer, it was a 104-103 victory, but Lai wasn't concerned about it. In fact, he wasn't even in attendance, a rare sight considering he usually sits behind the team's bench with the other assistant coaches.
Of course, Lai was more concerned with making the roster tweaks. He even had dinner delivered to him instead of going out to dine. Being on the phone all day is nerve-wreaking, especially since Orlando is asking for half your roster in exchange for one man, Dwight Howard.
"Sir, Mr Forman of the Bulls is on line two" Lai's secretary, Michelle said as Lai picked up the phone yet again, the first time, however, listening to a call instead of making one.
"Gar, how are you doing?"
"I'm good, yourself?"
"Good, good, so how can I help you?"
"Noah's a bit hurt so I need some help up at the five spot"
"Well, you're not getting Omer back, so I'm guessing you want Kwame?" Lai said as he took a took at the Bulls roster on the big board.
"Yeah, he's at least better than Alexis Ajinca, I don't even know why I traded you Omer" Forman remarked,
"Hey don't complain now, you got Stuckey from Detroit and he's been pretty good for you" Lai said, "So, Kwame huh? I want either Taj or Ronnie Brewer for him"
"That's highway robbery Leo, come on now."
"It was worth a shot, well, who you got in mind?"
"What about Kyle?"
"Korver? He's averaging what, 1.5 points this season? Plus he's got another 10 million dollars on his contract. No way"
"He's still a good shooter" Forman said, "Come on, I need to get that salary off the books or Jerry's gonna make me trade Noah and Deng for picks just to get under the tax rate"
"That bad?" Lai chuckled, "Well, I want some picks with him"
"I can give you your second rounder back" Forman offered,
"Throw in your first rounder too and we'll call it a deal" Lai countered
"Kwame for two picks and Korver? You're crazy"
"You need a decent backup at center more than I need a wing man buddy, losing salary space and getting better for a championship run? I almost feel like I'm getting robbed."
"....Alright, but you gotta give us B-Scal as well" Forman finally said after a moment of silence, "Thibs wants him back to help teach his system"
"Cool, lets get the papers drawed up, we got ourselves a deal" Lai said as he hung up the phone, clenching his fists and celebrated for a moment. It was good to get a win, but this was nothing. Lai drank up the rest of his coffee and got back to the board once again.
To win the title this season, he must strike a deal with the Orlando Magic.