Thursday, May 03
The buzz connected to l'affaire Randy Moss has been considerable. He's a bad guy. He's a misunderstood guy. He's a thug. He's a punk. He can't possibly fit in.

I have two words for these folks: Dennis Johnson.

For those unaware of the issue, Moss was traded to the Patriots on Sunday for a fourth-round draft pick. A steal, in other words. Moss was an All-Pro receiver, a big, fast guy who was frustrated by his stint with the Oakland Raiders and was looking to get out. He got out.

Over the course of several seasons, Moss managed to antagonize management and opponents alike. He wasn't a popular guy in Oakland, because he appeared to give up. So he was traded to New England.

Back to DJ, a former Celtic who should already be in the Hall of Fame. By his third year in Seattle, he was, according to his coach, Lenny Wilkens, "a cancer." This is the same Lenny Wilkens who may be the most affable coach this side of Doc Rivers.

In the late David Halberstam's estimable book about the 1978 Portland Trail Blazers, "The Breaks of The Game", Johnson hits a late shot to lead the Sonics to victory.

"Great game," said a reporter to Paul Silas, the former Celtic who was at the time a veteran mentor to many Seattle players (not Johnson).

"Yeah," said Silas. "Too bad a (bad word) had to win it for us."

If Paul Silas and Lenny Wilkens had issues with DJ, then it was a problem.

So. DJ is traded to Phoenix. There are several instances of pouting, of taking horrendous shots, of clearly taking a night off, defensively, during the three seasons he's there. No one calls DJ a cancer in Phoenix, but he is traded to the Celtics for Rick Robey.

  • I liked Rick Robey. Larry Bird liked Rick Robey. But this was even a bigger steal than Moss-for-a-pick. But Phoenix didn't trade DJ to get Robey. They traded him to get rid of him.

    Now, do we recall what happened to Johnson once he got on a team with multiple stars? Once he was on a team where he could excel at what he did so well, which was defend, rebound and take big shots? Well, I do. The Celtics won two championships with him, and that 1986 team may have been the best ever. Not in Boston. In the history of the league.

    Here's the point: DJ needed the Celtics more than they needed him. Larry Bird and Co. had won championships before DJ and had he not worked out, I believe they would have won titles without him. DJ cleaned up his act and became a winner.

    Similarly, Randy Moss needs the Patriots more than they need him. New England has a glut of receivers, and if Moss doesn't work out, then he's history. He knows this. Why is this such a huge mystery? It won't take Tom Brady or Rodney Harrison or Tedy Bruschi to beg him to play nice. If Randy Moss doesn't produce, he will sit and if he has a problem with that, he will be gone. It's not a big deal.

    I was surprised that some New England media guys thought that getting Moss and first-round pick Brandon Meriweather from Miami somehow suggested a huge departure for the Patriot organization. Hello? What about Corey Dillon? Bryan Cox? Rodney Harrison? Hey, Harrison is still considered one of the dirtiest players in the league. And he probably is. That's football.

    I would say this: If there are two players, roughly equal in ability, and one is a solid citizen and the other is a nutball, yeah, the Patriots grab the citizen. But what NFL team doesn't operate this way? People say the Raiders, but please, don't kid yourself. The Raiders are an organization like everyone else. All things equal, or near equal, and they will take the guy that is more disciplined and less of a risk. That's just smart business. Getting Randy Moss is smart business for the Patriots.