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.

Ex-NBA player Kermit Washington arrested in Los Angeles

ASHEVILLE, NC - APRIL 16:  Assistant coach Kermit Washington of the Asheville Altitude reacts to a call during the game against the Huntsville Flight in the NBDL semifinal playoff game at the Asheville Civic Center on April 16, 2005 in Asheville, North Carolina. The Altitude won 90-86 to advance to the championship game. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2005 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kermit Washington, a former NBA player who notoriously gave a bone-breaking face punch to the Houston Rockets’ Rudy Tomjanovich during a 1977 Lakers game, has been arrested by federal agents.

Washington was arrested on a warrant Tuesday in Los Angeles. It’s unknown if he has a lawyer.

Officials won’t discuss the arrest, but they have set a news conference for Wednesday in Kansas City, Missouri.

That’s where football Hall of Famer Ron Mix pleaded guilty Monday to filing false tax returns.

Authorities say Mix, a San Diego-area lawyer, paid someone to refer clients to him in return for donations to the charity Contact Project Africa.

Prosecutors say Mix paid $155,000, but the money went into his associate’s pocket.

Washington founded the charity, which is no longer functioning.

Dwyane Wade creates tie, sale proceeds benefit Craig Sager’s foundation

PHOENIX - FEBRUARY 13:  Assistant coach Dwyane Wade of the Rookie team is interviewed by Craig Sager during the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam part of 2009 NBA All-Star Weekend at US Airways Center on February 13, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Sager Strong.

Despite undergoing chemotherapy to battle the acute myeloid leukemia that has returned to his body, Sager has been a sideline reporter for TNT through these playoffs and the Western Conference Finals, doing as many games as he can. He’s been an inspiration to everyone in the business, and to fans. Dwight Howard put together a blood drive in his honor.

Now, Dwyane Wade has partnered with The Tie Rack, creating a tie where the proceeds of the sale go the SAGERSTRONG Foundation, created by Sager.

From the Tie Rack page:

Proceeds from the sale of this tie will be donated directly to the SAGERSTRONG Foundation, Inc., founded in support of TNT sports personality Craig Sager. SAGERSTRONG works with various charitable partners to support the treatment of those suffering from blood cancers and AML.

“Together, we can play defense on cancer, one tie at a time.” Much love, Dwyane Wade.

The tie sells for $25 (and you can get a matching pocket square for $15). If you wear ties, you can join me in picking one up and helping out a good cause.

(Hat tip Eye on Basketball)

PBT’s NBA 2016 Draft Pospect Preview: Skal Labissiere

DES MOINES, IA - MARCH 17:  Skal Labissiere #1 of the Kentucky Wildcats reacts after making a basket against the Stony Brook Seawolves in the first half during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena on March 17, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Skal Labissiere had one of the weirdest freshman seasons that I can remember seeing since I’ve been doing this job. He entered the year as arguably the best prospect in college basketball, a projected top two pick and the guy expected to anchor the front line for a national title contender in Kentucky. He played well for about a month … and then totally went in the tank. John Calipari lost confidence in him. He lost confidence in himself. His minutes evaporated.

By the middle of SEC play, he was a total non-factor for the Wildcats.

But then Labissiere started to put the pieces together. There was an 11-point, 8-rebound performance at Florida that seemed to wake him up. He followed that up with 18 points, nine boards and six blocks in a dominating win over LSU and Ben Simmons, the other guy that thought to be the No. 1 recruit in his class. His numbers down the stretch weren’t all that impressive, but anyone watching him play could see the difference.

And that’s where things get interesting for Skal. Because he had a season that would make you believe he had no chance of ever playing in the NBA. Yet there’s a good chance that he’ll end up getting picked in the lottery. How is that possible?

Height: 6′ 11.75″
Weight: 216
Wingspan: 7′ 2.5″
2015-16 Stats: 6.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.6 bpg, 15.8 mpg

STRENGTHS: Have you seen his shooting stroke?

Seriously, have you? Look at this:

This dude measured in a quarter-inch short of seven-feet, and he’s out here shooting like that. I’m not really concerned about what his shooting numbers were this season  — he shot 41.5 percent on jumpers, which isn’t good considering he shot just one three — because I think what happened to Skal at Kentucky had a whole lot more to do with confidence than ability — we’ll get to all that — but anyone with even a minor sense of basketball intellect can watch him shoot and see a guy that can make NBA threes at a very good clip.

Now think about where the NBA is heading these days. They call it small-ball, right? But it’s less about “small-ball” than it is about spacing the floor with shooters, and it just so happens that most of the guys that can shoot are small. Put another way, big dudes that can shoot have real value. Channing Frye has a four-year, $32-million contract with Cleveland right now. Marreese Speights might win his second straight NBA title with the Warriors. What do those guys have in common? They’re big and they can shoot.

And not only that, but Skal is fluid and agile, meaning he doesn’t just project as a pick-and-pop threat. He’s got a post game. He’s got a face-up game. He could, one day, be a really, really good offensive weapon. He’s also a much better shot-blocker than he gets credit for, averaging over four blocks per-40 minutes as a freshman. He’s got issues defensively — again, we’ll get to that — but they don’t include length, athleticism and a sense of timing as a shot-blocker.

There’s a reason that scouts have loved his potential for a long time.

WEAKNESSES: There are many, which is the reason why people are fairly shocked to see where he stands in mock drafts.

Physically, the biggest weakness for Skal right now is, simply, that he’s too weak. He weighs all of 216 pounds, according to the measurements at the NBA Combine. He needs to add a good 20-30 pounds of muscle if he’s going to have a prayer of holding his own in the post in the NBA. And as he gets stronger physically he’s going to get stronger with the ball. Not only did he get beaten up in the paint last season but he had trouble corralling rebounds and holding onto the ball in traffic.

Toughness was also a problem for him. Some bigs love going bow-for-bow in the post. Some don’t. Skal may be the latter. He’s got no ‘dog’ to him. He’s never going to be Draymond Green or Steven Adams. And while that will likely improve as he gets stronger, he may just be a kid that’s too nice for his own good. Given the role he’s projected to play, that may not end up being too much of a problem if he’s at least strong enough to hold position on the block; his long-term value is as a guy that can guard fives while pulling them away from the rim at the other end of the floor.

His mental toughness, or lack thereof, will be, but I’ll get to that in a second.

For me, the single biggest issue Skal is facing is that he lacks feel and basketball IQ because he just hasn’t played all that much basketball in his life. He didn’t play his junior season in high school because of a stress fracture in his back. His senior season he spent at something called Reach Your Dream Prep, which was a prep school team created out of thin air after his guardian totally mishandled a transfer of high schools. In other words, prior to Kentucky, he had never really been coached before.

And you can see that in the way that he played. I think the best way to describe it is that he was robotic. He didn’t react to plays. He didn’t read what was happening around him. He had to think it through, and as the adage goes, ‘when you think, you stink’. He strikes me as a kid that was spent far too much of his basketball life working through drills and has no idea has to translate what he’s been working on into an actual game.

He was slow to react offensively. He was even slower to react defensively, where his quick feet and knack for shot-blocking helped hide the fact that he was more or less clueless on positional defending for the majority of the season. That’s part of the reason he was seemingly always in foul trouble. Being too weak was a major cause as well, and after every mistake he made he got an earful from head coach John Calipari back on the bench.

And when you put all of that together, what you got was a player whose confidence was totally shattered by the middle of the season.

That’s where the issue of mental toughness comes into play. Coach Cal has a philosophy with these perimeter-oriented bigs: he’s going to play them in the post. It worked for Karl-Anthony Towns. It didn’t work quite as well with Skal, but you could see him start to put the pieces together by the end of the season.

Put another way, Skal’s flaws were exacerbated and magnified because he was broken mentally. He didn’t believe in himself, partly because he wasn’t ready to handle what he had to handle at Kentucky. The question NBA teams have to answer: Will that change once he learns how to play the game?

NBA COMPARISON: Channing Frye.

I really like Skal’s potential, but I’m not sure he quite reaches his ceiling. The role I see him playing in the NBA for the next 10-12 years is as a center that thrives in a pace-and-space offense. That’s Channing Frye. He’s never averaged more than 12.7 points or 6.7 boards in a season, but he’s now been in the league for 11 years and just signed a contract with $32 million over four years because he’s 6-foot-11 and shoots 38.6 percent from three.

And this isn’t a perfect comparison, either, because Frye has never been a shot-blocker. There have only been 14 players in NBA history that have shot better than 35 percent from three (attempting at least one three per game) and averaged 1.5 blocks in a season. Donyell Marshall in 2003-04 is the only player that did so and shot better than 40 percent from three.

OUTLOOK: Skal is something of a lottery ticket. His size, his fluidity and his shooting ability gives him a ceiling close to LaMarcus Aldridge, but it’s inarguable that he has a long, long way to go to get there. The issues surrounding his in-game experience is something that people seem to gloss over when discussing him.

The fact that he’s still quite raw is good and bad. Whatever organization picks him is going to have to come to terms with the fact that he won’t be an impact NBA player for a year or two. But they’re also not going to have to erase any bad habits. He’s more or less a blank canvas that can be molded into whatever that coach wants him to be. He’s also a hard-worker — a jump-shot like that doesn’t just come naturally — and I think that, eventually, he’ll add the strength that will allow him to handle the rigors of playing this level of basketball.

The question is whether or not he’ll ever develop that feel or those basketball instincts that he lacks. I don’t have an answer for that, but in a draft that is this week, a guy with his potential in a role that has extreme value in this iteration of the NBA, I think he’s absolutely worth a first round pick, maybe even a late lottery pick. Just hope that he ends up in a good situation.

Tyronn Lue says Cavaliers have “seen what we need to do;” expect more Channing Frye

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 19:  Head coach Tyronn Lue of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts during the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game two of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 19, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Coming into the Eastern Conference Finals, when Kevin Love and Channing Frye shared the court and the Cavaliers played small it was a devastating lineup for opponents. Other teams struggled to match up with the shooting and spacing.

Against the Raptors, it hasn’t worked that way. Love and Fry have played only 12 minutes together and are +4.8 points per 100 possessions in that very small sample size (below the team average of +6.8 for the series). The last couple games Love has sat the fourth and Frye has played — because Frye is making his shots, which starts to pull Bismack Biyombo out of the post. Tyronn Lue ran plays for Love early on in Game 4, he was aggressive and he got good looks, he just missed them.

After watching the tape from Game 4, Lue said he has a plan — expect more Frye and more small ball from Cleveland. Via Chris Fedor at the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

“We had a great film session today and we’ve seen what we need to do,” Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue said. “We’re ready and prepared for it…

They have used a “take what the defense gives” approach, which will continue to be the plan, even after it led to 82 3-pointers in the last two games despite dominating the paint in the first two games.

“I think when you penetrate and they collapse the floor, you’ve got to make the right play, and if the play’s a kick out, the guy’s got an open shot, he has to take it and he has to knock it down,” Lue said. “We’re not really coming down, looking and saying we want to force 3-point shots. That’s not what we’re trying to do. You could see that in the first two games. We just took what the defense gave us and now the defense gives us a three-point shot, so we got to step up and make them….

“I liked it a lot,” Lue said of the (small ball) lineup before admitting it would be used more moving forward.

That’s part of the equation. But as our own Dan Feldman pointed out today, the Cavaliers are generating open looks, they just aren’t knocking them down. The offense works, and going small could create even more opportunities.

However, if you can generate looks, well, it’s still a make or miss league (to use the coaching cliché). Cleveland just needs those looks to fall.

On the other side, will Lowry and Biyombo continue their hot play once they leave Toronto? They have a lot to prove as well, and likely against a Cavs team playing much better ball.