or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Seceded from the NBA
The Lakers-Rockets-Hornets trade is dead on arrival – killed by the 27 other owners (maybe less, I suppose, but that’s irrelevant) and David Stern. The NBA's league office has decided to acquiesce to the demands of the swine class of NBA owners – the owners of the terrible teams in bad places – who are headed, bizarrely this time (bizarre only if you ignore his record for nonsense and whining) by Cuban and much less bizarrely by the on-the-record piggish and disgusting Dan Gilbert. According to Woj, "Mark Cuban was one of the most vocal in a chorus of owners irate with the belief that the five-month lockout had happened largely to stop big-market teams from leveraging small-market teams for star players pending free agency."
Personally, I had always figured that the lockout was largely a cash-grab: force the players to accept either a lowered BRI split or moves towards a hard cap. As it turns out, I was wrong, and the NBA’s owners actually believed their own crap. In hindsight, I should have seen this coming. My professors always warned me about reading too much into a text – it’s reductionist and leads you to ignore evidence.
The problem, of course, is that the moves the owners made didn’t really do much to stop players and big teams from "leveraging" the small ones. Yeah, players can’t really opt for the trade-and-extend strategies of the past, but that didn’t change the cold, hard, facts: the maximum salary rules make players like Chris Paul and Dwight Howard worth far, far more than their contracts pay out. So, if the system doesn’t really stop players from moving to the "big-market" teams (read: good, not owned by peeps like Sarver and Jordan or the league) from the "small-market" ones, but that is the opposite of the owners’ goal, then the owners must actually be a combination of colossally stupid and colossally greedy.
Maybe you doubt that the current system favors moves like the DOA CP3 trade of 2011 or the successful trade for Melo last season. Let’s go through this step-by-step, then.
Chris Paul is 26 years old. He is currently a millionaire, and in less than a year he’ll be looking for the big contract of his career. The other teams are on what is financially a level playing field. Each can only offer him a deal that matches the NBA’s maximum individual player salary limit (most can’t offer him that, however, because of their previous commitments under the cap). He is likely worth about double that in actual wins (I’m estimating here), so any team that wants to sign him doesn’t really need to make much of a bet on how much they should pay him. There can’t be a bidding war for a player of his caliber.
So it all comes down to what else a team has to offer: the right location, the right market, the right teammates, the right history, the right media presence, whether the schools are good or whether the local laws prohibit dancing. If it doesn't really come down to money anymore, then the other stuff is what will end up deciding things. And guess what? Cities like Los Angeles and New York and Miami and Chicago and Boston (and, I would contend, major cities like Dallas and Houston, too) offer way more in terms of non-basketball benefits than cities like Cleveland or Milwaukee. Players are going to pick Los Angeles over OKC nine times out of ten (Durant being one of the few weird exceptions)
And when it comes to a GM formulating his cap space strategy, he'd be a fool if he doesn't recognize the implications of what I've just said: max deals for guys like Paul, Lebron, Wade, Durant, and Rose are actually steals. If a guy is producing like a theoretical $25-million player but he plays for "only" $18 million, you have a steal just by the simplest analysis. When you factor in scarcity – there are only five dudes on the court, and you only have so many minutes to parcel out – it should be obvious that paying for superstars is actually a really great idea. Where you're going to get killed is in the mid-range: Yeah, the Rockets are getting great value out of the contracts for Lowry and Scola, but look at what is happening to Chuck Hayes. I love Hayes and think he's worth every penny of the MLE, but when the Rockets have been feeling the minutes crunch (just too many guys) for like three years now, and when that cap space could be devoted to a better player (that's the critical part), it's harder to justify giving him a deal like that. So the smart GM's of the league have woken up and realized that the effective model is two stars taking up over 50% of your cap space, a few rookie deals to augment that, and a bunch of really cheap dudes. In such a market, trading for stars (rather than role-players, I guess) is your best bet. That shouldn't be a great shock to anyone. And ever since Lew Alcindor made it clear that Milwaukee wasn't for him, those stars are going to dictate (somewhat) where they play, if they can, which means they'd rather play in LA and New York than Sacramento.
All this adds up to movement from the "small" teams to the "big" ones – the only thing the new CBA changed was the price (in addition to the extension thing, new rules also make it easier to get a trade done, which means that fewer salary-dumps are going to happen. Other options will be available to teams). And that's exactly what we saw last night: Chris Paul wasn't acquired for cap relief and a few picks. New Orleans basically got a new roster in return: the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, an all-star quality forward, one of the league's best scorers, a very effective second-string PG, and a pick. The Lakers had to also give up the second-best big man in the world right now. All sides gave up a lot to get back a lot.
What's more, the NBA didn't just create the system in which this basically had to take place: they also made certain this was going to happen when they bought the Hornets last year. Everyone has known Paul was going to leave NOLA since 2009 (we all suspected it before then, but I think before the end of the '09 season it was at least possible to sit back and think he'd stay there forever. After that, the team went to shit, the GM took over as head coach, and Paul was visibly unhappy with the whole affair basically every night). We all knew that the Hornets would be trading him at some point this season, or he'd walk in free agency and go to a team that wasn't mired in terrible management, a terrible economic situation, and a boring-and-declining roster. When they bought the team, everyone had to know that Chris Paul would be leaving New Orleans, probably before the NBA could find a buyer for the team (and I'm suspicious of its ability to do that if they're unwilling to allow the team to move somewhere else). That would mean that one of the 29 owners was going to get Chris Paul, and the 28 others would miss out on the greatest trade sweepstakes since T-Mac was on the block. Theoretically, that worry was addressed by making the Hornets independently-run (the league office is in charge, and they have their own front office). But now, when that has happened, the owners and the league get upset. What is this.... stupid person logic?!
No, it's swine logic. Cuban's complaints weren't made in a vacuum. They come after the man's team made its own attempt at getting Chris Paul, and after years of trying to acquire him before today. Cuban says that he would have "understood" if the league had blocked a similar trade to the Mavs, of course, but I seem to remember the pigs in Animal Farm being pretty accomplished at this sort of thing. These are the statements of naked avarice, the most porcine emotion there is. Not since Nixon has a privileged hog lied so obviously and so unashamedly to the American people.
But that’s not even the worst of this. Stern has demonstrated (twice now, in the lockout and now this travesty) that he is either at the pigs’ every beck and call or is King Pig himself. Stern claims (via the league office) that his decision to half-assedly veto was made for "basketball reasons," the only lie oinked thus far that surpasses Cuban’s faux-acquiescence to pretend parity.
The implication of Stern's veto is basically that it's cool if stars go to small-market teams, but if they go to big-market teams (no matter if that team gives up two all-stars and all their cap space to do it), then there's a problem. For the Knicks, soon-to-be-Brooklyn Nets, Lakers, Mavs, Rockets, Bulls, and (thanks to historical fluke now than actual market size) Miami, this needs to set off alarm bells. But Mark Cuban, in full piggish charm, can't see past his own blunt, pink, wrinkled, truffle-seeking nose, and is more preoccupied with the fact that the "LAKERS HAVE CHRIS PAUL OMG SMH" than the fact that the league set a precedent that could hamstring (actually not a pork pun) his team forever. Pigs may be smart, but I don't think they have the capacity for planning. That's why they offer Rashard Lewis a max deal and then complain about it later.
The Rockets, Lakers, and Chris Paul all have good reason to sue the NBA. For Paul, there's evidence that the league has basically colluded to determine that he can't play in Los Angeles if the other owners don't want it. I think the Rockets and Lakers have a more serious case, however (though I'm no lawyer, so take that for what you will). The NBA's commissioner has decided that the interests of small-market teams (which is to say their hoggish, ridiculous complaints, rather than their actual interests) outweigh the interests of the big-market ones. No matter what happens, but particularly if Paul gets dealt to some other team before this season is done, it damn sure looks like the NBA is playing favorites in order to keep the small teams' owners happy. And when the original deal was bargained in good faith and set to go only to be killed at the last minute for unspecified-and-highly-dubious-and-if-you-believe-them-you-are-an-idiot "basketball reasons," that for fuck sure looks like collusion and violation of the NBA's constitution. If I were Les Alexander, I would tell the Rockets' general counsel that they might not be getting Christmas off this year, because I'm suing the league fast and hard right in its pink, slobbering face.
Make no mistake, sports fans, this is the doing of the piggish cabal, the swine cult. The owners will deflect and say that this was all Stern’s doing while they genuflect at his porcine majesty. It was once possible to believe that Stern was simply playing the small-time owners’ game in order to keep them in the fold (sty), to avoid a years-long lockout and the end of the NBA as we know it. This is the final revelation, the mask is off: he is mama pig, and the owners are his suckling piglets.
The lesson that I learned from the lockout was a simple one: the league's small markets are the problem: they can't make money in their dumb locations or they make terrible decisions and can't get their shit straight. For every Utah Jazz or San Antonio Spurs engaging in good decision-making and running a real business that doesn't look like a giant clusterfuck at every trade deadline and free agency period, there are about ten Michael Jordans trading away their players for nothing and ten Dan Gilberts whining and complaining about the players all the time. They're the swine class. They're the piggish group of billionaires gorging themselves at the trough and whining that it's not enough; Stern is their hog clan matriarch. And I'm not sure if they sell muzzles for pigs, but the NBA desperately needs some.
So what I'm proposing is something far more radical than even the double-cross Stern just pulled: slay the pigs. The smartest move the Rockets, Lakers, and other big teams can make right now is to leave the sty. It's clear that the commissioner is ignoring their needs in favor of placating the swine class, after all, so what is to be lost by leaving? There was talk of the players forming their own league during the lockout, and just as the NBA desperately needs players to make the league work, it needs teams like the Lakers and Knicks arguably more than the Lakers and Knicks need the Charlottes and Sacramentos of the NBA . The big-time owners need to show some solidarity (this won't happen but play along for a moment).
Tomorrow morning, Les Alexander and Jerry Buss should announce the formation of the World Basketball Association. Invite the league's big-market clubs to play in a new league, ungoverned by salary caps and luxury taxes. Sign away the NBA's best players. Schedule games against Europe's best squads. Sell the television rights to NBC. Yeah, you'll have to fight in court, but the infrastructure is there. Let the pigs learn what life is like when there isn't a farmer there feeding them.
Maybe that's rash. Yeah, it probably is. But at this point, all bets are off. When the league tampers with legitimate trades because it doesn't like the idea of Los Angeles getting better (when it was actually making a very risky move, but I digress), one has to wonder what the future holds for the NBA. What little credibility Stern and the owners had left after this brutal lockout has disappeared into the muck. Faced with a league that has made it clear that it will punish players who voice their preferences on trades and teams that actually put something together, I think secession may actually be the big teams' best hope going forward.
Those of you who have been here longer than a year might remember me. I'm happy to say that I'm back writing for the Dream Shake after a lengthy hiatus. I'm very impressed with the writers added to the blog in my absence, and I think Tom, Dave, and Lee have put together a really great website that should get even better in the future, even if this has been a terrible twenty-four hours for the Rockets.