Monday, December 12, 2011

The Biggest Joke in Sports

Wait, I'm going to the Clippers?!
One of my favorite techniques in surviving “arguments” with my wife is the art of distraction. When she wants to take a critical look at one of my many faults, I simply bring up a total red herring and attempt to steer the discussion away from the true problem. Granted, this is no longer effective after nearly four years of marriage, but it was absolutely killer at one point.

Much like I was once able to take the spotlight off my inexplicable inability to put dirty dishes in the sink, the NBA has been able to take the spotlight off the most embarrassing period in league history.

You heard me right; this is unquestionably the most embarrassing period in league history. For a league that has faced an endless stream of PR nightmares, that’s saying an awful lot. Remember, we’re talking about a league that has had a player leap into the stands to attack a fan, resulting in the wildest brawl in sports history. We’re talking about a league that has had a referee actively betting on games, perhaps influencing the outcome of a Finals and seriously damaging the credibility of the league’s on-court product. We’re talking about a league that just wasted five months on one of the dumbest, most illogical lockouts in memory. And yet, despite the severity of those things, the NBA has somehow managed to top itself thanks to the ridiculousness that ensued in the past week.

In my opinion, the NBA is now a complete and utter joke. I do not say that lightly, as professional basketball has always been very important to me. I’ve grown up with it, immersed myself in it, and invested large quantities of my time in it. Coming to this conclusion has certainly not been fun, but there’s no denying that the league is more a punch line than a legitimate sport.

I’m not alone on that thought.

“The NBA is a joke, plain and simple, a league that is now the laughingstock among the big four of North America. The NFL, along with Major League Baseball and the NHL, all have issues. What the NBA has is anarchy and a credibility level rapidly shriveling to zero.” – Tony Massarotti, Boston Globe

“With arguable the highest ratings in recent years for the NBA last season, sports theorists highly believed the NBA was the next sport to be branded as America’s pastime. However, with David Stern, the owners, the players, and the billions dollars pumped into this laughing-stock, the NBA has now become the punch-line of every joke.” – Bleacher Report

A quick Google search of “the NBA is a joke” brings up these articles, along with 2714 others written in the last week, clearly showing the consensus around the sports world. However, while all the sports writers and bloggers are correct in their assessment, they’re succumbing to a level of distraction that even I would be proud of, and are totally missing the point.

With all the fury directed at David Stern and the league’s owners for vetoing the Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers trade, I’d like to take a second to applaud Stern for making the only good decision he’s made in the entire offseason. That’s right; I’m APPLAUDING him for vetoing the deal. If that ostracizes me from the sports community, then so be it. If you think I’m an idiot for holding this view, then so be it. Quite honestly, I feel the same about anyone who blindly follows the ESPN narrative without taking a second to think for themselves.

Granted, the league put itself in a horrible position to begin with thanks to the huge conflict of interest problem created by their ownership of the Hornets. Bill Simmons wrote an interesting piece on last week, detailing this very issue. While I disagree with a lot of what he has to say in the article, there is no denying the massive problem that lies in the league owning one of its 30 franchises. More on that later.

That having been said, the conflict of interest angle is totally irrelevant as it relates to this trade, and any anger stemming from it has no place. Given that, there are three undeniable facts that must be understood in order to come to grips with this issue:

Fact #1 – One bad business decision does not necessitate another

Yes, the league handled the Hornets situation very badly. They were dumb to intervene for George Shinn and they have no business owning the team. It clearly creates a conflict of interest and the league deserves to have egg on its face for this. However, just because they made a bad business decision in assuming ownership of the franchise does NOT mean they are obligated to make more bad decisions. As owners of the franchise, they are just as responsible for the well-being of the team as any other owner is for theirs.

Fact #2 – The trade between the Hornets and Lakers was a bad business decision

It is beyond me how people can think this was a good deal for New Orleans. Just because John Hollinger tells you Chris Paul’s PER is the same as Pau Gasol’s does NOT mean the deal is good. Heck, this trade isn’t even good enough to be considered bad! It’s horrendous! Essentially, the Hornets were trading the best pure point guard in the game for the core of a Houston Rockets team that was WORSE than New Orleans. They were trading a 26 year old player who singlehandedly carried them to the playoffs and scared the living crap out of the Lakers for three aging, expensive, and fairly limited players; none of which are anywhere near the level of Chris Paul. That’s fine, except it’s a proven fact that you can’t win in the NBA without a superstar. Other than the Pistons in 2004, the league is littered with star studded championship teams. Needless to say, Luis Scola, Lamar Odom, and Kevin Martin are NOT the 2004 Pistons. Not even close. This deal, were it to go through, would have made the Hornets a 40-45 win team for the next three seasons (likely not in the playoffs) before they slowly eroded into oblivion. And that’s good because…? In the NBA, simply being mediocre is a death sentence for small market teams. Mid to late first round draft picks rarely pan out (don’t let people fool you on that…I have numbers to back this up if you’re interested) and high profile free agents aren’t interested in coming your way. The only way to rebuild is to bottom out for high draft picks. This trade would have crippled the Hornets chances going forward and set back their rebuild effort at least three seasons.

Fact #3 – The league OWNS the Hornets

Bad decision or not, the fact is that the 29 league owners OWN this franchise. They pooled their money together like a group of friends buying a big Pay-Per-View fight and bought this NBA franchise. No matter how scandalous/preposterous you think the trade veto is, the league has every right to do so as owners of the team. It doesn’t matter whether the veto was part of a nefarious plot to withhold Paul from the Lakers. THEY HAVE THE RIGHT TO DO IT! They didn’t violate the CBA, as many have suggested. They didn’t break any rules. They simply exercised a right every other owner has. As I said before, I think they made a wise decision.

The ironic thing about the trade veto is that the league would have been screwed either way. Even as news of the deal was still hot off the presses, I was tweeting this, “So the NBA owned Hornets are about to ship the best PG to the biggest market for 50 cents on the dollar? And this isn’t suspicious, why?” You’re kidding yourself if you don’t think a thousand articles would have been written with this sentiment in mind had the trade been allowed to go through. The NBA would have been mocked and people would still be saying that the league is a big joke.

The difference in the situations is that the criticism would have been deserved. The unexpected trade veto only served to distract everyone from what really makes the NBA a joke, a problem that would have been suitably highlighted had the veto NOT happened.

The problem: The rich get richer. The poor get poorer.

Hmm…where have I heard that before? That’s right! It’s the same thing I hear about baseball every year!

Every year, the same sports publications run the same types of articles, condemning baseball for allowing the Red Sox and Yankees to financially dominate the league. Every year, we are forced to hear sad stories of the plight of small market teams like the Pirates, Royals, and Athletics. The same teams sign the same type of free agents while the other teams fight and claw to find a gem in the left over bin.

Well, baseball, you can finally breathe easy, because the NBA has overtaken you as the biggest joke in sports. It’s a mantle well earned for a league that seemingly went out of its way to reach this point.

While baseball still has some very serious problems, at least they don’t lie to you about who they are. Whereas baseball openly tells you that the Yankees and Red Sox are going to spend double what anyone else can afford, the NBA wants you to believe that their “salary cap” puts everyone on a level financial field. Whereas baseball makes no bones about the top free agents only ending up in a limited number of markets, the NBA tries to sell you on small markets having such “huge advantages” in retaining their franchise players.

Hypocrisy, lies, deceit. Five months ago, the league preached a story of “competitive balance” and “market equity.” They talked of a hard cap and a franchise tag to level the playing field. In the end, the system they came up with was the exact same as before – a complete and total farce. Small market teams are more irrelevant than ever, free agency is more out of control than ever, and the salary cap is apparently as meaningless as a Republican vote in California. The anger aroused by the Chris Paul veto has only served to mask these things, but the true devil is in the details of this disastrous offseason period.

The details of this joke are as follows:

Shane Battier signs with Miami, despite the Heat being over the salary cap.
Tyson Chandler signs a massive deal with New York, despite the Knicks being over the salary cap.
Lamar Odom, the league’s Sixth Man of the Year, is given away to Dallas for basically nothing. This trade is not vetoed despite it being ten times worse than the Chris Paul trade. Also, the Mavs are able to absorb Odom’s contract, despite being over the cap.
The Celtics nearly add David West despite being well over the salary cap.

Through a variety of idiotic and illogical cap exceptions, several contenders were able to add important pieces despite already being over the salary cap. Now, tell me, what good is a salary cap if you can exceed it any time you want? If you can go over it, THEN IT ISN’T A FREAKING CAP!!! The sign-and-trade, the extend-and-trade, the MLE, trade exceptions, and every other kind of dumb exception are completely laughable at best, striking to the heart of why the league has little to no credibility.

But wait, there’s more to this joke! How about the fact that both Chris Paul and Dwight Howard are holding their team’s hostage, just weeks after the lockout that was supposed to fix this?!  How about the irony of Golden State using their amnesty on Charlie Bell’s dumb contract while simultaneous attempting to sign DeAndre Jordan to an even dumber one? Yes, that’s right, Golden State thought Bell’s $4mil was too much to bear, but they apparently have no qualms with giving $10mil a season to a guy with career averages of 5.6 PPG and 5.7 RPG!

The biggest eye opener of this giant mess, and the one thing that makes the NBA the biggest joke in sports, is just how irrelevant most of the league is. Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh have made that crystal clear. Instead of worrying about how to keep star players in these markets, the league needs to seriously consider the message these players are sending. That message is, in no uncertain terms, that these markets are not viable. If New Orleans is so irrelevant that they don’t even have a hope of retaining a star player, then why are they in the league? The same could be asked of Orlando, who has already lost one franchise center to a bigger market.

The NBA’s unspoken mandate is this: Unless you are the Knicks, Lakers, Celtics, Heat, Mavs, or Bulls; then you don’t matter. All star players will inevitably migrate to those markets, and there is nothing you can do about it. In fact, there is no point in even having you in the NBA, other than to serve as punching bags for the big boys.

What confounds me is why the NBA didn’t just contract New Orleans when it had a chance. Instead of creating this conflict of interest, the league had an opportunity to rid itself of flotsam, but once again failed to act in a responsible, logical way.

To summarize, the NBA has set up and maintained a system where the salary cap doesn’t matter and a majority of the teams don’t matter. THAT is the problem. Don’t be distracted by the media’s focus on Chris Paul, because that veto is honestly the only sane thing to come out of the offseason.

Make no mistake about it; the NBA is a huge joke. It’s the biggest racket in sports, stealing money from millions of fans who mistakenly think their franchise matters. Move over baseball, there’s a new punch line in town.


  1. does ur wife read these article?! lol, that made me laugh :)
    how come the owners buying the Hornets didn't make bigger news when it first happened? only now did I realize that had happened... crazy!

  2. Their previous owner, George Shinn, was hated throughout the league. The team had been up for sale for awhile, and when a deal with a minority owner fell through, the league swooped in and took control. My guess as to why it wasn't a big story is two-fold:

    1.) This happened in early December, in the midst of the Lebron/Heat hype. Hard to take headlines from them, especially early in the season.

    2.) Shinn was such a bad owner, and he was so unpopular, that I imagine people were short sighted enough to think that ANYBODY was better than him.

    Regardless of the reason, it certainly is coming back to bite them, isn't it?

  3. Maybe a stupid chris paul trade and mediocrity shrinking to ineptitude could be the catalyst for contraction? Yes, that was entirely starry-eyed and delusional, but I wanted to look for a silver lining for you.

  4. If the specter of losing Paul, the even more daunting specter of not being able to sell the team, the prospect of long term irrelevance in the standings, and a constant consistent history of losing boatloads of money isn't enough to contract them DURING A LOCKOUT...well, I don't know what to say. Thanks for the attempt, but I have no faith in the league to do anything right.