The men behind the curtain want to pull the string on decertification

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“Let the poets write that he had the tools of greatness, but the voices of his better angels were shouted down by his obsessive need to win.”

The West Wing

This lockout is perceived as two sides in a standoff with one another, owners and players. In reality, it’s six sides. You have the rich owners, the poor owners, the moderate owners, the superstar players, the role players, and… the agents. When it gets down to it, the agents are the men behind the curtain in this little play. Those escalating salaries that the owners themselves agreed to with ridiculous, long contracts? The owners are on the hook for them, those were the product of the owners’ decisions. But they were created by the work of agents, forever raising value, forever edging the bottom line (and subsequently their cut) higher and higher. It is the agents advising the players on their money to prepare for a lockout, it is the agents keeping the players in line to whatever degree they can.

Let’s be clear, this is not to vilify agents. If we’re making a list of “money-grubbing” and “reasonable” we’ve got everyone involved on one side and pretty much no one on the other. That’s how this works, and how it would work with any group of people and if you think you and your cohorts wouldn’t do the same, then let’s have a long drawn out conversation about the value of financial success and philanthropy. But let’s not because this is a sports blog and that’s boring.

The agents are simply doing their job. The problem is, they’ve begun to get antsy. See, they don’t like this patient, reasonable waiting game Billy Hunter has decided to pursue. They want to get aggressive. They want to use the guns they have. And the one gun they have? Is decertification and a pursuit in the courts. Doing so has two effects. It represents a remote but distinctly aggressive threat against the owners to coerce them into surrendering the high ground and opening up a very real negotiation that will result in the middle ground the players are pursuing. It will royally tick off both David Stern and the ownership group, settling in for a tense, vicious, and deeply personal conflict, even more so than the lockout currently exists in.

And that’s totally the cabinet they want to open. From Yahoo! Sports:

The owners are counting on panic to take over the union once the players start missing checks. That’s when the owners want to cut a deal, when the players are most vulnerable and fearful of losing a full season’s salary. The players risk getting the same lousy deal next year after already losing a year’s salary.

Essentially, it’s come down to this: Hunter is still selling diplomacy, but the agents want to commence fighting. No one expects the league to seriously negotiate issues until they fear the courts could rule against them. The owners want what they want – hard cap, rollback on salaries and guaranteed profits – and they aren’t interested in compromises. The longer the union waits to decertify and file an antitrust suit, the less chance there is of getting a reasonable agreement and saving the season.

via NBA agents want union to decertify – NBA – Yahoo! Sports.

Woj’s article has all sorts of wonderful news, like that the agents are losing faith in Hunter, which causes a fracture and could move Hunter to the fringes of the fold. Think of that as if the old war hawks had captured the President’s ear during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The good news in that scenario would be that none of you would be complaining about the Miami Heat right now since it would still glow in the dark. The bad news is that it would have meant World War III. Hunter is the voice of reason. He’s being patient and keeping lines of communication open.

Hunter’s taken a beating because in how this has rolled out, he looks like a punching bag. He’s not actively attacking the owners, simply holding the line on the barricades and keeping the siege at bay. The agents think the best defense is a good offense. But Hunter’s way is a long-term approach. It favors reasonable discussion and business negotiations, the core of this debate which has moved sadly towards dramatics and ideology. Eventually, the owners will cease rabble-rousing and come back to the table for a real conversation, and if the union’s efforts to gain employment overseas or through other means of generating income are successful, the players will be stronger for it.

The players need to be Johnny Cash. Steady like a freight train, sharp like a razor. The owners want them Bombs Over Baghdad. But as Chris Ballard pointed out when discussing Michael Redd (the exact kind of contract the owners are trying to protect themselves from) in “Art of a Beautiful Game,” that means sometimes you hit the enemy, sometimes you hit civilians.

The length of this unnecessary lockout depends on cooler heads prevailing. If these agents, who run this world more than is let on, storm the gates and stage a coup, the fans might as well flee for the neighboring nations of “Other Sports Land.” Because we won’t be seeing the league outside of a courtroom for a good, long time.

 

Kristaps Porzingis on Knicks: “This is where I want to stay… this is where I want to win”

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There were multiple, connected reasons it was time for the Knicks to move on from the Phil Jackson era — a triangle of reasons, really — but this one should have been at the top of the list:

He was alienating Krisptaps Porzingis.

We don’t know yet if Porzingis can be a franchise NBA player, however, he shows the potential to do it. He could become a top five NBA player you can build a contender around. You endear yourselves to those kinds of players, not get into power struggles that lead to said player blowing off end-of-year meetings and being guided out the door.

With Jackson gone, Porzingis has more motivation to stay a Knick and be the guy that turns the franchise’s fortunes around. KP was running a youth hoops camp in his native Latvia and was taking questions from the children when one kid got in a question the New York media would have loved to ask: Are you going to abandon New York? Here is Porzingis’ answer, translated and obtained by the New York Post.

“I feel that it is the best place to win. And if you win in New York, you are king. For the last two years, I have had so many positive emotions here that this is where I want to stay and that this is where I want to win.”

The Knicks have their cornerstone big. Now they need a guy on the outside (Kyrie Irving will get mentioned, but he is not the only answer), they need to get and develop young players to go with their stars. It’s the next phase for the Knicks.

But if they can keep Porzingis happy, they can lock him up to a max rookie extension after next year and have that piece in place. Then it’s up to Steve Mills and Scott Perry to put the pieces around him.

Report: LeBron James won’t waive his no-trade clause

AP Photo/Ron Schwane
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They Cavaliers have had a frustratingly lousy offseason.

They ousted trusted general manager David Griffin. Since, they’ve watched Golden State load up while their roster stagnates, as stars like Paul George and Jimmy Butler have landed elsewhere. Now, Kyrie Irving is requesting a trade and reportedly blaming LeBron James for that leaking.

LeBron has practically thrown up his hands and left ownership and management to figure out everything.

But LeBron – with rumors swirling about him leaving in 2018 free agency – won’t take an earlier exit.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

LeBron James will not waive his no-trade clause for any teams at any point during the 2017-18 season, league sources tell ESPN.

Cleveland essentially has two options with Irving:

1. Trade him for better, older players

2. Trade him for worse, younger players

No. 2 becomes much more palatable if the Cavs can also flip LeBron (and Kevin Love) and launch into a full rebuild. But as long as LeBron is around, it’s hard not to contend for a title.

But if they trade Irving for immediate help and LeBron leaves next summer, the Cavaliers could be left with a ghastly roster. That might be the risk they’re forced to take now.

It’s hard to believe the Cavs would trade beloved LeBron, even if he didn’t hold veto power. It would turn owner Dan Gilbert and general manager Koby Altman into Cleveland villains, co-conspirators in LeBron leaving again. If Gilbert and Altman dare LeBron to leave in free agency, LeBron would have to own the decision himself.

Still, if LeBron and Irving would return incredible hauls of younger players and draft picks – I can’t even imagine what LeBron would draw in a trade – Gilbert and Altman should at least consider it. It just doesn’t seem the Cavs will have that option.

Report: Kyrie Irving believes LeBron James leaked trade request

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Kyrie Irving reportedly requested a trade from the Cavaliers, noting his desire to leave Cleveland was based on parting ways with LeBron James.

That all remained under wraps for a couple weeks.

Why did it become public now?

Stephen A. Smith on ESPN:

According to my sources, they believe LeBron James had everything to do with news getting out that Kyrie Irving wants to be traded, because Kyrie Irving and his representation and others met with the Cavaliers a couple weeks ago, and not a word got out until recently. They believe that LeBron James got word of it and was put off by it and leaked it. I’m not going to accuse LeBron of such a thing. I don’t know that to be true at all. But I know that’s what Kyrie Irving believes.

To reemphasize, Smith is not reporting that LeBron leaked Irving’s trade request, just that Irving believes LeBron did. That alone speaks to their disconnect.

Why would LeBron leak it?

Just speculating, but maybe to ruin Irving’s chance at a smooth exit. Irving is trying to bail on LeBron, and LeBron might take that personally. Leaking the trade request would be in character for LeBron as a passive-aggressive response.

But the trade request becoming public also hinders Irving’s trade value – which hurts LeBron’s team. However, people don’t always act logically when they’re upset. And maybe the Cavs won’t be LeBron’s team long enough for it to matter.

Again, though, nobody is reporting LeBron actually leaked it. Irving’s reported accusation means enough in itself.

Cavaliers really lamenting non-trade for Paul George

Joe Robbins/Getty Images
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The Cavaliers were reportedly close to trading for Paul George before the Pacers sent him to the Thunder.

Just how close?

Ramona Shelburne, Dave McMenamin and Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

a text message from Indiana Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard undid an agreement on a blockbuster deal for George the Cavs were just starting to celebrate, a moment that now lives in infamy within the organization.

On draft night, as the Chicago Bulls were finalizing a deal with the Wolves to move Butler, the Cavs were feverishly trying to assemble a three-team trade with the Pacers. The Denver Nuggets had a strong desire to acquire Kevin Love and became a legitimate trade partner with Indiana. The Nuggets were willing to include wing Gary Harris and the No. 13 pick in that night’s draft to get Love, and the Cavs would reroute the assets to Indy for George, sources said.

But they couldn’t complete the deal. Indiana was working on another option with the Portland Trail Blazers, sources said, as they were offering a package with three first-round picks for George. Eventually, everyone moved on and the Nuggets traded the No. 13 pick to Utah in a package for Trey Lyles.

On the afternoon of June 30, the sides thought they had a deal. On a conference call between the teams, everyone tentatively agreed. George to the Cavs, Love to the Nuggets, Harris and other pieces to the Pacers, sources said.

Plans were put in place for a call to be arranged between George and Gilbert, an important step before the trade would become final, sources said. The front office began making other plans to complement George as free agency was about to begin.

But then Pritchard, who had been on the conference call when the deal was tentatively agreed to, sent the message that his team was backing out, sources said. There was no deal.

The teams tried to save it, but shortly thereafter, news broke that George was being traded to Oklahoma City.

I’m always skeptical of reports that a trade that never happened was close. Just because one team – or two teams in a three-team trade – thought the deal was close doesn’t mean the other team was actually close.

Heck, just because one team thought the trade was agreed upon doesn’t even mean the other team actually agreed.  According to this report, Pritchard “tentatively agreed.” What does that mean? The Cavaliers and Nuggets might think that was purely a procedural delay. Pritchard might have considered it contingent on other factors. A simple misunderstanding could easily be painted as something more nefarious – one team backing out of an agreed-upon trade.

But there are a lot of details here, lending credence to the notion a deal was actually close. So, let’s break down each team’s involvement:

The Trail Blazers entered the draft with three first-rounders – Nos. 15, 20 and 26. But they lacked cap room for George, so they would have had to send salary to Indiana. With Portland’s numerous bad contracts, maybe that offer wasn’t as good for the Pacers as it appears here.

The Nuggets wound up signing a star power forward (Paul Millsap) without losing Gary Harris, so they came out ahead by not completing this deal. Given how much of free agency is decided before July 1, did Denver really not know it’d land Millsap or just prefer Love that much?

The Pacers probably missed out. I’d prefer Harris (younger, cheaper and arguably better) to Victor Oladipo, and I’d prefer the No. 13 pick to Domantas Sabonis.

And then there are the Cavs, who have been thrown into disarray since this trade fell through. Would Kyrie Irving still have requested a trade with George in Cleveland? The Cavaliers would have had a better chance of winning a title, but Irving would have been further overshadowed – a key component of  his trade request. Would LeBron have been more likely to re-sign next summer? There was so much on the line.

Whether or not Pritchard actually agreed then backed out, it’s easy to see how the Cavs are having a hard time letting this one go.