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.

Julius Randle’s camp not convinced he’s a Laker priority

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Last November, Julius Randle walked into Staples Center wearing a sweatshirt that said: “pay me.”

Yet he and the Lakers could not come to terms on a rookie contract extension — the Lakers could have had him starting at $12.4 million a year, but wanted to keep their cap space and options open. Now, it’s going to cost a lot more to keep the restricted free agent who averaged 16.1 points per game on 55.8 percent shooting with eight rebounds a game. There are rumors that the previous contract negotiations left a bad taste in Randle’s mouth and he wants out.

Lakers’ fans want Randle back. The Lakers still have rights to match any offer and the front office has said Randle is a priority. Randle’s camp is not so sure about that last part, they haven’t seen the evidence, reports Tania Ganguli at The Los Angeles Times.

Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka told The Times on Friday that the Lakers’ front office is constantly in touch with Julius Randle’s representatives, and there has been “a mutual exchange of interest and hoping that we can work something out for both sides.”

Randle’s camp is unsure of how mutual the interest has been.

“We still have no indication of where Julius stands among the Lakers’ priorities, or if he is a priority at all,” Randle’s agent Aaron Mintz said Saturday in response to Pelinka’s comments. “We are looking forward to the marketplace in July, when we will get a clear picture of Julius’ future.”

That is negotiation posturing by Mintz, no doubt. He might as well have said, “show me the money.”

Don’t expect other teams to wait around on Randle offers while the Lakers figure out their free agent possibilities — Paul George, LeBron James (probably not him) — come July 1. Other teams are interested (Dallas among them) and are going to try to move quickly to force the Lakers’ hand.

Once those other offers are on the table, we’ll see where the Lakers’ priorities really are.

Rumor: Dallas to target big men — Cousins, Jordan, Randle — in free agency

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The Dallas Mavericks have been hunting for a center ever since they thought they had DeAndre Jordan, right before the Clippers locked him in a house and forced him to change his mind (that’s not really how it went down, but it makes a better story than the truth). It’s why Dallas has been linked to Mohamed Bamba in the draft — a big, defensive-minded, rim runner who could develop into a great pick-and-roll partner with Dennis Smith Jr.

However, the Mavericks may not want to wait for Bamba — or any other young big — to develop.

Expect the Mavericks to go after one of the name big men on the market in free agency this summer, reports Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer from the NBA Combine in Chicago.

Ever since word spread in league circles in March that Dirk Nowitzki would return to the Mavericks for his 21st season, there have also been rumblings that the Dallas front office will look to make additions this summer that can put the team back on a winning track. The Mavericks can create space to sign a max free agent, and multiple league sources expect them to pursue a trio of big men: DeAndre Jordan, DeMarcus Cousins, and restricted free agent Julius Randle.

Jordan has not yet officially opted out of the $24.1 million he is owed next season by the Los Angeles Clippers (although most observers expect him to). It is possible Dallas and other teams are not going to offer that much per season for Jordan, but if he can get three years starting at closer to $20 million per that’s a lot more guaranteed money. Also, does he want out of Los Angeles now that Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are gone and will he take a little less per year to get to a new team?

We know Dallas likes him and Jordan has a relationship with Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle from the last go around.

How much money and how many years would Dallas be willing to risk on Cousins coming off a torn Achilles? More than the Pelicans (who don’t have the money to replace Cousins with anywhere near that level player if he bolts)?

Randle showed a lot of promise as a bully inside who can run some pick-and-roll with Smith, but do the Mavericks want to try to outbid the Lakers (which leads to the question of what other free agents Los Angeles might get and how much they are willing to pay to keep Randle)?

We know this, Mark Cuban does not sit quietly on the sidelines of free agency. Expect the Mavericks to be aggressive players this summer.

NBA playoffs mired in worst pre-Finals competitive-game drought ever

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Exciting games. Clutch plays. Close finishes.

Remember those?

The NBA playoffs have hit a lull. It has been 11 days since the last game decided by fewer than 10 points.

Longer competitive-game droughts have occurred – though not many, and never before the NBA Finals. The most common route for going so long without a competitive game is decisive victories to end the conference finals, a lengthy break before the Finals then decisive victories to start the Finals.

But we’re not to the Finals yet.

In this case, every second-round series ended in five or fewer games – culminating with the Celtics’ 114-112 win over the 76ers on May 9, the last single-digit game. Three league-wide off days followed. The Celtics routed the Cavaliers twice in Boston, and the Warriors and Rockets traded lopsided wins in Houston. Two more league-wide off days, Cleveland winning by 30 Saturday, Golden State winning by 41 last night, and we’re at 11 straight days without a competitive game.

Here are the longest-ever streaks of days between single-digit playoff games before the conference finals ended:

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Both conference finals are as close as possible, 2-1 (favoring the Warriors and Celtics). But the individual games just haven’t matched the tightness.

Why is this happening?

The peculiar overlapping three off days for each conference finals certainly factored.

Maybe the Warriors and Cavaliers – who’ve met in the last three NBA Finals – are that much better than the rest of their conferences when locked in. Maybe the Warriors and Cavaliers know that, leaving them prone to bad losses the teams know they can rally from. Maybe the Celtics are just that good at home and that bad on the road. Maybe it’s just a random occurrence.

No matter the reason, the result is certain: We’ve gone a long time without seeing a competitive game.

Hopefully, Cleveland and Boston change that tonight.

Andre Iguodala doubtful for Warriors-Rockets Game 4

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Andre Iguodala hurt his knee during the fourth quarter of the Warriors’ win over the Rockets last night. Golden State coach Steve Kerr brushed off concern about the injury and praised his starting small forward in these Western Conference finals.

“When we’re right, when we’re playing how we are supposed to play, Andre’s right in the middle of it,” Kerr said. “His defense and being smart, making good decisions. Andre is one of the guys who seems to set the tone for that for us.”

The Warriors might have to set that tone without Iguodala in Game 4 Tuesday.

Drew Shiller of NBC Sports Bay Area:

Replacing Iguodala in the lineup won’t be easy. He boosts the Warriors offensively and defensively, and they’re short on wings.

Will Golden State just spread Iguodala’s minutes between Nick Young, Shaun Livingston, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson? Durant and Thompson already play so much. Young is a defensive liability.

Will the Warriors go big more often with Kevon Looney, Jordan Bell and/or David West – shifting Draymond Green from center to power forward and Durant from power forward to small forward? Looney already has a relatively large role in this series, and it’s imperative he plays with full effort whenever on the court. More minutes could harm him. Kerr doesn’t appear to trust Bell, and West might be too slow to keep up with the Rockets.

There’s no good answer here, just different cracks Houston can exploit if Iguodala is out or even just slowed tomorrow.