Pro Basketball Crosstalk: Rights, wrongs, and trade demands

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chris_paul.jpgLet’s face it: there are some topics in basketball that are best tackled by having two writers talk past each other at gradually increasing volumes. We’re not making any progress unless we’re yelling our way through the real issues, and that’s precisely what John Krolik and I hope to accomplish in these Pro Basketball Crosstalk sessions.

In each installment, we’ll talk around each other while discussing a choice NBA item. On the docket for today is…

Resolved: Players have the right to demand a trade if they are dissatisfied with the team that owns their rights.

Rob Mahoney: A team and its players are not always on the same wavelength, both
conceptually and directionally. Given that, when a player and their
team are not in sync in either regard (say, a player in an offense
crippling to their individual abilities, or a skilled veteran on a team
looking to rebuild), it only makes sense that the two look to part ways.

Teams conventionally hold the decision-making power on these
matters. GMs are able to theoretically deal any player on their roster
for whatever reason, in most cases without the player’s approval or
consent. With that in mind, doesn’t it make sense that players be given
at least some of the power to determine their own future via
trade? Free agency offers NBA players the option to choose from
numerous potential suitors, but why should each player surrender their
power for years just by signing a new contract?

Trade demands and requests are a necessary part of the player-team
dynamic. They keep teams honest. They give players some of the power I
believe they’re entitled. They allow each NBA player flexibility, the
same flexibility which teams strive to achieve.

There are, naturally, caveats. Opening the doors for more trade
demands is a horrifically slippery slope. While it may be acceptable
for a megastar to request a trade, I think it’s generally safe to say
that we don’t want an NBA in which the league’s bottom-tier talents are
trying to force their way onto other squads. That’s because not every
player in a crummy situation should force a trade. Yet if we
step away from the appropriateness of trade demands in a given
situation, it should be every player’s right. Players should calculate
the risks involved, consider all possible avenues, and issue a trade
demand, in either public or private, if they so choose. It’s their
prerogative, or at least, it should be.

The trade demand is not a decision for all seasons, nor is it for
NBA players of all walks. It is, however, an important part of
empowering players to control their own destinies, particularly when
stuck on bad teams, franchises spinning sideways, or those organizations looking to
move in a new direction without regard for the player’s future.

John Krolik: I think this summer has been really informative in establishing just
how powerful a trade demand can and should be. Like you said, there are
times when it simply doesn’t make sense for a team and a player to be
together anymore, and it often makes sense for the player and his agent
to expedite things in those situations. 

However, there are situations where a requested/demanded
trade would benefit the player in question much more than it would
benefit his team, and that’s where things can get tricky. Look at the
CP3 situation from earlier this summer. CP3 is young, he’s the best
point guard in basketball when healthy, he finished 2nd in MVP voting
in his 3rd year in the league, and he took the Spurs to a game 7 that
same season. 
There’s no doubt in my mind that Paul is a
spectacular, perhaps even transcendent, player, and fully capable of
being the best player on a championship team. The problem is that when
you compare Paul’s team to the ones LeBron, Kobe, Wade, Howard, and
even Durant play for, the man simply has no chance to enjoy the type of
team success that the other players on his level have and will. There’s
something unfair about that, and as a fan of the NBA in general I’d
certainly like to see Paul with teammates who can match his level of
play — watching the Hornets go 3-7 to start the season as Paul essentially broke PER was like watching Will Hunting solve impossible proofs with a janitor’s mop in his hand. 
So it made sense for Chris Paul to move. The
problem was that it didn’t make sense for New Orleans to move him. He’s
still playing at an incredibly high level, he’s under contract for
another two seasons, he makes the Hornets competitive, and there’s no
way New Orleans could possibly have gotten equal value for him. So
instead of living in fear of one of its employees, New Orleans calmed
him down, kept him, and traded his would-be successor for a wing player
who should work very well alongside of Paul. 
It was the rational thing to do, and a good
reminder that the post-“Decision” NBA doesn’t need to become an arms
race between five or six different teams, at the expense of the rest of
the teams in the NBA. I know I made the “Good Will Hunting” reference
earlier, but it doesn’t entirely fit as an overall metaphor — being
the franchise player on a team with a good chance to make the playoffs
in the West is not janitorial work, and Hornets fans deserve a
superstar just as much as Heat, Lakers, Magic, or Thunder fans do. I’m
all for players trying to put themselves in a good situation, but they
shouldn’t do so at the expense of their employers. 
(With Carmelo, we’re essentially seeing that a
trade demand isn’t a wave of a magic wand — Carmelo is a very, very,
very good player, but there are questions about how far he can lead a
team, and nobody is really willing to sell the farm for one year of
Carmelo.) 
I would imagine that we’re more or less simpatico
on this specific issue, so I’ll broaden things a little bit: the line
between superstar and GM is starting to blend a little bit. With free
agency being what it is, a lot of teams feel like having a superstar
player means they’re under the clock to build a championship contender
around that player as soon as possible or risk losing him. Sometimes
this agreement is implied (like it was with LeBron in Cleveland), and
sometimes the player makes it explicit, like CP3 did this summer or
Kobe did a few seasons back.
 
I think we both agree that players have a right to
look for a better situation. But when a player had a significant role
in creating his current situation by using the leverage free agency
gives him to “play GM”, does he accept the responsibility to see things
through? If, for example, Joe Johnson demands a trade in two because
the Hawks are too capped out to build a roster that can compete with
the best teams in the East, would he be within his “rights” to do so?
(That’s purely a hypothetical, by the way, and I doubt JJ would ever
demand a trade.)

RM: Another important point we’re touching on here is that ultimately, no
matter how much power you entrust with a player to either demand or
request a trade in any capacity, the teams will still hold the cards.
Players can put pressure on their teams to make a move, but if — and
the Hornets are an excellent example of this — the franchise really
doesn’t want to part ways with the player, they don’t have to until the
contract says otherwise. For the most part, players aren’t going to sit
out games, or even sulk their way through them. The trade demands with
the most merit come from the players with the most sway, and those
players are also the same ones that will play out their terms, even if
they have to do so reluctantly.

Chris Paul isn’t going to sit out games because he didn’t get his
way. Kobe Bryant wasn’t about to do so. Carmelo Anthony won’t.

In
that way, trade demands have so much less to do with trades and so much
more with putting pressure on the player’s current team to improve. Players like Paul
are voicing their displeasure with their current situation, and while a
trade is one response, peripheral moves are another. We’ll have to see
how that strategy works out for New Orleans in the long-term, but I’m a
firm believer in the fact that dealing a player who has demanded a
trade isn’t the only option, even if that belief makes me naive in an
age of super-agents.

The Johnson hypothetical is also an interesting one, and probably
falls somewhere in the should vs. could discussion. Given the truly
exorbitant amount of money that’s been tossed in Johnson’s direction,
he probably shouldn’t be the one to potentially request a
trade. That said (unless this is just some fairy tale I’ve been told by
reactionaries in a post-Guantanamo world): aren’t “rights” something that
individuals are supposed to be able to have, to hold, and to put under
their pillows at night? Shouldn’t Johnson, even if the Hawks’ future
salary cap hell is mostly his fault, be able to request a trade just
like any other player?

It probably wouldn’t be the correct move, and who knows what would
possibly come of it, but I’d say Johnson should have the same right to
request a trade as any other baller. He should be responsible for the situation he created, but he doesn’t have to be.

JK: I think there’s an important distinction to be made here between big-r
Rights and small-r rights. The rights in question are of the latter
variety; theoretical Joe can still own guns and get a jury of his peers
and speak out against the government, as long as he doesn’t tweet it
during a game. What he can’t do is play for another team, because the
Hawks own his contractual rights. I suppose he can ask for a trade, but
the Hawks would have zero obligation to oblige or even consider his
request. Just wanted to clear that one up. 

I think one thing that comes into play when high-profile
players request a trade or some immediate upgrades around them is the
notion of job security. Barring catastrophic injury, really good
players will always have a team willing to pay them very handsomely for
their services; no matter what trades do or don’t occur, the superstar
will be paid many millions of guaranteed dollars every year for the
next 5-10 years. The worst-case scenario is that they collect that
money while playing for a subpar team, which isn’t horrible. 
General managers, on the other hand, are always one bad season
away from getting fired, and fans don’t get any money if their team is
perpetually terrible. Players want teams to take risks in order to
build a championship-caliber roster, but they don’t have to live with
the results if things don’t work out. Some people (Dan Gilbert comes to
mind) might not think that’s right, but it’s the current reality.
Players can make demands, and often it will benefit franchises to hear
what their players have to say; teams just have to remember that giving
a player what he wants doesn’t mean the player will do what the team
wants when the time comes, and adjust how they do business accordingly.

Hassan Whiteside knows Heat’s problem: Not enough Hassan Whiteside

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In 10 minutes on the court in Game 5, Hassan Whiteside was 0-of-4 from the field, picked up three fouls, and was -14. He couldn’t handle Joel Embiid physically on either end, and Miami had better success against the Sixers big man with Kelly Olynyk or other shooters at the five, pulling Embiid away from the basket some.

In the three games since Embiid returned to the Sixers, when Whiteside was on the court the Heat were outscored by 11.9 points per 100 possessions. For the entire five-game series Whiteside shot just 45 percent (50.5 true shooting percentage, well below the league average). Outside of grabbing some rebounds, Whiteside was not a positive for the Heat against the Sixers.

Whiteside said after the Heat were eliminated the problem was he didn’t get enough of a chance.

That’s not how the playoffs work. When something doesn’t work — and Hassan being able to hang with Embiid clearly did not work, they are not on the same level — coaches don’t have time to let a guy play through it. Time and possessions are too precious in the postseason, if something doesn’t work the coach needs to look for something that does.

Not that if he’d been given “a chance to fight” it would have made a difference. Whiteside likes to think of himself as an elite NBA center near the class of Whiteside. He’s not.

The question is will he be back with Miami next season? On the court, coach Erik Spoelstra appears ready to go another direction. However, trading Whiteside — who is owed $25.4 million next season and has a player option for $27 million the season after that — will not be easy. Teams are not going to want to take on that much salary for Whiteside’s level of production (and style that doesn’t completely mesh with where the game is going for big men). The Heat would have to attach a pick or another player that teams would want, a sweetener in the deal. That may be too rich for Miami to play that hand.

It’s something to watch over the summer. Whiteside and Spoelstra are not on the same page right now and so something needs to change, the question is what?

Off-season priority for Spurs: Meet with Kawhi Leonard, resolve that issue

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There are other questions the San Antonio Spurs have to answer this summer: If Danny Green opts out of his $10 million deal (as many around the league expect him to) how hard do they chase him? Same with Rudy Gay and his $8.8 million option (he is a little more likely to pick it up). Tony Parker is a free agent, do they bring him back, and if so at what price? How do the Spurs add athleticism to this roster, something they clearly needed against the Warriors?

But all of that pales in comparison to the big question:

Can the Spurs mend their relationship with Kawhi Leonard and get back on the same page?

While the Spurs struggled through the first round against the Warriors, Leonard was sealed off from the team, spending time with his inner circle (led by his agent and uncle), seeing his doctors in New York (who did not clear him to play due to a quadriceps tendon issue) and working out at the NBPA facilities there. There is a disconnect right now, one that has other teams around the league planning trade packages in case one of the league’s elite players becomes available. Right now, those teams are being told he is not.

The Spurs want to fix this and keep him in the fold. He is eligible for a “designated veteran” max contract extension of roughly $219 million over six years (the last year of his current deal plus five more at 35 percent of the salary cap, the deal Russell Westbrook and James Harden just got). But before the Spurs put that on the table they want to see where Leonard is at. The goal is a meeting between Popovich and Leonard, as reported by Michael C. Wright of ESPN.

With head coach Gregg Popovich expected to take the lead, the Spurs plan to meet with Leonard over the summer to gauge whether the sides can work out their differences and continue what has been largely a positive and productive partnership, sources said…

While the decision regarding whether to offer Leonard a $219 million super-max extension rests with management — and even the current players, according to a source — ownership ultimately makes the final call. Convincing the team’s former chairman and CEO, Peter Holt, and his wife, Julianna Hawn Holt, could prove to be a difficult sell for general manager R.C. Buford. The couple is currently embroiled in divorce proceedings.

Last summer, Popovich had LaMarcus Aldridge walk into his office and ask to be traded. Popovich smoothed over that relationship, put Aldridge in spots he was more comfortable on the court this year, and the Spurs big man had an All-NBA level season.

The key was Popovich was able to sit down with Aldridge over dinner and talk it out, with both sides having an open mind. Will he get that chance with Leonard?

The players and team management want Leonard back in the fold, and they have the ultimate hammer with that extension — put $219 million on the table and Leonard isn’t walking away from it. The question is will the Spurs even put that offer on the table, and that right now is not clear at all.

All the other decisions around this team hinge on what happens with Leonard — with him they are potential contenders. Without him, a trade package back likely would be loaded with young players and picks that would have the Spurs thinking about a few years down the road more than the immediate future.

Now, Dwyane Wade must decide if this was the end

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MIAMI (AP) — Dwyane Wade‘s first NBA game was in Philadelphia.

His last NBA game may have been there as well.

Retirement is a very real option for Wade, who has been not-so-quietly saying for weeks that he isn’t sure if he’ll be back next season. The offseason is here now, after the Miami Heat were ousted by the 76ers on Tuesday night in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference first-round series, and the face of the franchise may have taken his jersey off for the final time.

He has not decided.

But some of his closest friends believe this could really be the end.

“I appreciate y’all concern,” Wade said in Philadelphia on Tuesday night. “But we’ll worry about that later.”

Of course, his fans want him to come back. One prominent fan — his wife — cast her vote before he even left the floor after Game 5.

No one, not even Wade, knows how long this process will take. He’s going to talk to his wife. He’s going to talk to his kids. He’s going to talk to the Heat, and he’s going to talk to the people within his inner circle that are trusted most.

Wade isn’t a starter, but it could be argued the three-time NBA champion is still Miami’s best player. Wade carried the Heat to victory in Game 2 and got them on the brink of a win in Game 4. He doesn’t run as fast or jump as high as the version of himself known as Flash did, but he’s still capable of delivering big moments.

If Wade is done, the last visions fans will have of his career will be with him in a Heat uniform, still doing his thing. That matters to him. He isn’t Michael Jordan going out in a Washington jersey, or Patrick Ewing playing his last game with Orlando, or Shaquille O’Neal limping away from his NBA finale in Boston colors.

He wouldn’t be going out on top, but he’d be going out in the right uniform and still playing at a high level.

One way or another, his career always was going to end in Heat colors anyway. He wasn’t going out in a Chicago jersey, nor a Cleveland jersey. He had to wear “Heat” across his chest again, and when the Cavaliers traded him to Miami in February, it immediately became obvious that Wade was changing franchises for the final time.

Resume-wise, he’s more than good. He’s got three NBA championships. He’s got an Olympic gold medal. He’s going to the Basketball Hall of Fame. He’s going to go down as one of the best two or three shooting guards in the history of the game. The only guys with as many points, rebounds, assists and blocked shots in their regular season and playoff careers as Wade? Jordan is one, LeBron James is the other.

Here’s something else to consider: Wade has never wanted a farewell tour. He watched Kobe Bryant go through it, noted how much of a grind it was for the Lakers star, and doesn’t want to hear the same questions in every road stop next season.

What’s the motivation to return?

That’s the unknown.

Wade is set financially. So this decision won’t primarily be about money. Even after a brutal divorce and custody battle a few years ago, Wade will never worry about cash. He’s well-invested, has deals that will continue working for him well after his playing days end, and will make millions next year whether he’s wearing sneakers or suits.

The Heat have serious cap challenges and won’t have a bank-breaking deal to offer Wade this summer. He won’t play for the minimum. He won’t get anywhere near the maximum. For him to return, it’ll have to be worth his while. He spends a ton of money to keep his body right. And if Wade can make more off the court than on it next year, it might make sense for him to retire.

Plus, put simply, Wade wants more time with his family.

His oldest son, 16-year-old Zaire, is finishing his sophomore year of high school. Zaire can play. He gets attention because of his father’s name, but his game is real. The next couple years will be critical to his development as a ballplayer, and his dad wants to have the time to share as much wisdom as he can.

So clearly, there are good reasons for Wade to retire.

But he can still play. And that might be the reason to come back, one more time.

 

Warriors eliminate Spurs, advance to face Pelicans

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Kevin Durant drained a pull-up 3-pointer reminiscent of his signature NBA Finals shot in the final minute of the third quarter. The Spurs ended the quarter with a flurry and kept coming.

Durant made consecutive mid-range jumpers over Kyle Anderson midway through the fourth quarter. The Spurs called timeout, subbed  Rudy Gay for Anderson and kept coming.

Durant drove past Gay and dunked. The Spurs called another timeout and kept coming.

Each of those Durant shots seemed as if they could be the backbreaker. Credit San Antonio for continuing to play hard.

But without Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs were just overmatched against the superstar small forward in the Warriors’ 4-1 first-round victory – which ended with Golden State’s 99-91 Game 5 win Tuesday.

The Warriors’ next opponent – the Pelicans, who open their second-round series Saturday – could soon learn the feeling.

New Orleans relies on E'Twaun Moore, Darius Miller and Solomon Hill at small forward – not the slate of stoppers that seems ready for Durant. Even on an off night (1-for-8 on 3-pointers, five turnovers), Durant scored 25 in Game 5. He’s a tough cover. But those three Pelicans – Moore (size), Miller (fundamentals) and Hill (speed) – each have major defensive liabilities Durant can exploit.

And Durant will have plenty of help.

Klay Thompson (24 points) appears headed back on track after a clunker in Game 4. Draymond Green (17 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists) looks locked in.

And, of course, Stephen Curry is poised to return sometime against the Pelicans.

The Warriors weren’t very impressive in the San Antonio series. Nor did they need to be. The Spurs were just overmatched, unable to summon nearly enough offense.

But Golden State showed enough focus and reminders of its talent to retain favored status even against better opponents – like New Orleans, which swept the Trail Blazers. Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday lead a surging team.

The Spurs want to get back on that level, and that stars with solving the Leonard dilemma this summer.

Will they offer him a super-max extension? Would he take it? Will they trade him? Will he request a trade?

With questions like that facing San Antonio, by comparison, the Pelicans are stable at small forward.