When the Berlin Wall tumbled to the ground, the people danced and cheered in the streets. When the statue of Saddam crashed into the sand, the people danced and cheered in the streets. And when point guard Earl Watson was waived from his contract so he could sign with the Indiana Pacers, the people of Oklahoma City danced and cheered..well, maybe not in the streets, but the OKC blogosphere was bouncing with joy at his departure.
It appears that the Thunder fans of the Midwest did not care for Mr. Watson, and the feeling was very mutual. The 6-foot-1 guard from UCLA was not a fan of team management.
After coming off of a career year, Watson began the 2008-09 season as the starting point guard. He was "da man" on a team of talented, young prospects. He had started all but five games the previous year, put up 10.7 points per game, dished 6.8 assists per contest and shot a blistering 45 percent from the field in 78 games in 2007-08 when the team was still in Seattle.
But shortly into the 08-09 season, Watson was demoted to backing up lottery pick Russell Westbrook, a demotion that Watson did not take well. His unhappiness shook him from the starting lineup to mid-season backup and, finally, to the end of the bench by the regular-season finale.
When Watson was waived late this week, Oklahoma City writers and bloggers were happy to see him to go. Phrases such as "locker room cancer" and "disgruntled player" were used to describe the Kansas native. You can just feel the love soothing out of OKC.
NewsOK's Darnell Mayberry wrote: "The Thunder has long stressed its commitment to high-character players and likely didn't want to risk tampering with the team's current chemistry. Watson never publicly requested a trade but was often visibly discouraged inside the locker room and on the bench during games. He said at the end of last season that he didn't expect to return to Oklahoma City."
Mayberry added in another story: "The Thunder made its first transaction of the off-season, and it's one fans have long craved, seemingly by any means necessary. Oklahoma City released veteran point guard Earl Watson, making the man a free agent and finally ending his unhappy stay in Oklahoma City."
You may remember when Watson visited Conseco "Reggie Miller" Fieldhouse last season. His one appearance against the Pacers was a mixed bag as he went 2-of-11 from the field in 30 minutes, while dishing nine assists (and four turnovers) in a Thunder loss.
It wasn't long after that game when Watson was benched. He started the first 15 games of the year, but after the Thunder started with a paltry 1-14 record, Oklahoma City gave up on the then-29 year old to go with the youth of Westbrook. He finished the season playing only nine games in March and April combined.
So it's reasonable to understand why Watson wasn't happy with the Thunder. They gave up on him early to start a youth movement in a season they deemed lost. The Thunder began filling in the backcourt around him quicker than a criminal covering his tracks. They added Chucky Atkins, Shaun Livingston, Kyle Weaver and lottery pick James Harden.
Watson was the odd man out.
While everyone in OKC expected the team to trade Watson, the Thunder decided to pull an Anti-Pacers policy by actually buying out the player's contract (Larry Bird, please take notes on how this is done). He immediately signed with the Pacers, becoming a security deposit for the loss of Jarrett Jack, which is expected to happen on Monday. It is presumed that Oklahoma City paid for part of his buyout, while the Pacers paid for the rest. That number should be around $2-$3 million. And if it's lower, well kudos to the men in the suits.
Now the question is whether the Pacers are getting 2007-08 Watson, a player who could start when needed and easily support T.J. Ford this season. Or, is the team getting the 2008-09 Watson, a selfish player looking out for himself. If he doesn't get the starting spot, which he would have to fight for his life for over Ford, and then gets benched behind Travis Diener and A.J. Price, then the Pacers end up with a locker room cancer.
But there are several good things that could wash out the bad taste of Watson's "lost" season. He will now be in a contract year fighting to show people that he's a team player and someone worth spending millions of dollars on during the summer of 2010. He'll hopefully strive to prove that last year was merely an anomaly and his best basketball is ahead of him.
The man also has a history of being consistently good as a slashing scorer and tenacious defender. In college, he started the most games in UCLA history. Not bad. He also finished ranked first in Bruins' history in steals (235), minutes played, most assists in one game (16) and he finished 21st in most career points.
So maybe a fresh start is all Watson needs to get the last leg of his NBA career on the right path. We won't hear officially from the Pacers until later this week when Watson clears the waiver wire and can sign on the dotted line. By then, things will be much clearer at the point position. Jarrett Jack will be either a Raptor or Pacer. That answer alone will dictate whether Ford's chances of coming back are good or bad. And then we'll get to know team president Larry Bird's thoughts on the newest incoming player, Mr. Watson.
Even though Watson had one bad year and left a city behind that loathes him, the one-year lease that the Pacers are putting him on is a good idea. It should be a cheap, quick look at a point guard who has shown flashes of great things in the past. Even if he doesn't work out, the Pacers can use his contract as trade bait at the trade deadline.
Hopefully, when the season ends and the nets are silent, the fans of Indiana aren't dancing and cheering in the streets for Watson's departure. Bird is giving Watson another chance. Let's hope he makes the most of it.