Monday, August 13, 2012

Management, not market, responsible for the NBA's woes

Want to know who to blame for the Dwight Howard fiasco? Look no further...

Without a doubt, there isn’t a more complicated relationship in my life right now than the one I have with the NBA. It’s like dating a supermodel, except she has one of those horrendous arm-sleeve tattoos that makes you want to hurl every time you start to get intimate.

Like the supermodel, the NBA is absolutely gorgeous on the surface. For basketball fanatics like myself, watching the game played at the NBA level is a sight to behold. The talent is undeniable, the athleticism breathtaking, the personalities larger than life. In what other sport can you observe a transcendent athlete impose his will on a game to the extent that Lebron James did in the playoffs? Even if you despise Lebron, as I do, there’s something special about taking in that level of dominance. It’s just pure fun to watch basketball played like that.

But man is that arm-sleeve tattoo hideous. Every time I think I can get intimate with the NBA, there’s that stupid tattoo staring me right in the face. Last Friday night was another one of those “arm-sleeve tattoo” moments, when the league kicked me right in the teeth just as I was getting cozy with it. All the fun of an interesting offseason, all the excitement of the U.S. Olympic team…all shot to pieces now that the Lakers have stolen Dwight Howard in what can only be described as one of the most lopsided, objectionable trades in NBA history.

Like many, I’ve spent the last few days trying to figure out exactly what happened, and who to be angry with. The easy answer, of course, is to blame the league itself. I’ve been very open about my dissatisfaction with the new CBA and with the direction it has led the league, so it’s natural to feel some bitterness with the way things turned out. Quite honestly, the league deserves much of that sentiment. This now marks the fourth consecutive summer that a franchise has been held hostage by its star player, two of which occurred under the new CBA…you know, the one that was supposed to stop this kind of stuff. How did those situations turn out? In all four, the player went from small market to big market (Miami, New York, LA, LA), and three of those small market franchises were left in shambles.

To place the blame at the feet of the league, it’s CBA, and its market inequities would be completely unfair, however. As much as I would love to make them the scapegoat, the fact is that David Stern did not pull the trigger on the Dwight Howard trade. He did not direct Howard and Steve Nash to Los Angeles, and he did not force the Magic to give away Howard for 5 cents on the dollar.

What the NBA has on its hands is a management problem…an epidemic, really.  Too many unqualified buffoons are making important personnel decisions, and it has led to disastrous results. Take Orlando, for example. The franchise has never had problems attracting talent, as evidenced by the summer when they lured both Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill. So why did Howard suddenly decide he wanted out? Not because Orlando was too small, but because Otis Smith had turned one of the best young rosters in the league into a group of overpaid has-beens.

When incompetence is as wide spread as it is in the NBA, the results are often horrifying. Think about what happens in your fantasy leagues when there are guys who have no idea what they’re doing. Terrible, terrible trades happen that almost always threaten the very fabric of the league and DO always threaten the competitive integrity of the league. Now imagine a league where about two-thirds of the GM’s are idiots. It’s called the NBA.

That, not market inequity, is why competitive balance is so off. The fact that Billy King and Geoff Petrie are allowed to continue in their jobs is why the divide between the league’s haves and have-nots is so great. Sure, the new CBA aids the smarter teams in screwing over the dumb teams, but that, in and of itself, is not the problem. As long as the league’s franchises continue to manage their teams as poorly as they have, these types of “arm-sleeve tattoo” trades will continue to pop up and infuriate fans.

In a nutshell, here is what went down last Friday night. One of the league’s smartest teams, the Lakers, got the ear of one of the league’s dumbest teams, the Magic, and convinced them to make one of the worst trades in NBA history. There is simply no other way to describe the trade, and honestly, now that we know the depth of Orlando’s stupidity, it’s kinda hard to blame Howard for wanting out. It’s unfair to the rest of the league, it’s a killer to competitive balance, it’s completely infuriating…but Orlando has no one to blame but themselves. The Dwight Howard saga was not a system issue that could have been fixed through more CBA negotiating; it was born from the complete and utter incompetence of the Orlando Magic to hire somebody who knew what the heck they were doing.

I’m really mad right now, and this awful trade honestly has me questioning why I bother to watch the NBA…but I know I’ll be back. I always am. The game is just too beautiful and it means too much to me. Sooner or later, though, that tattoo is popping back up. Until the league’s franchises figure out who to hire, it’ll always be there.

1 comment:

  1. So, here's a question from someone who admittedly knows nothing about the NBA, but it's been nagging me for awhile. I hear all the outrage over an obviously uneven trade, but doesn't the "trade demand" element contribute at all to the trade inequity in a situation like this? I mean the effect it has when a player publicly demands a trade, and so every GM in the league knows he can probably get a discount on that player because that player will be worth less to his current team now because he's not happy/may refuse to play.

    I just assumed they would have to get way less value than he's worth... but perhaps it was just even worse than what we expected and that's why it's so shocking. I'm just curious why no one seems to be pointing that out.