Home > Basketball > David Stern, Chris Paul, and the Big Market-Small Market Conundrum…

David Stern, Chris Paul, and the Big Market-Small Market Conundrum…

It’s easy to get caught up in the hysteria of this hyper compressed NBA offseason; after all, in less than a week we’ve had Chris Paul traded to the Lakers, Chris Paul not traded to the Lakers, Chris Paul possibly almost traded to the Lakers again, the Lakers trading Lamar Odom to Dallas and thus ensuring that Chris Paul will not be traded to the Lakers, Chris Paul about to be traded to the Clippers, Chris Paul not about to be traded to the Clippers, Chris Paul about to be traded to the Clippers is still possible, and, as of this morning, the Clippers no longer pursuing Chris Paul about to be traded to the Clippers.  It’s exhausting.  And, frankly, if you’re a fan of Chris Paul’s Hornets, it’s probably a little nauseating.  While it feels like something HAS to happen with the Chris Paul hysteria this second, in reality there are still several months for the Hornets brass to gather and sift through trade offers.

At least that would be the case if it were Hornet officials who were actually in charge of deciding the future of Chris Paul.  Instead that luxury seems to fall to David Stern.  Proving himself to be a hands-on owner in the mold of Michael Heisley, Stern has inserted himself front and center in the Paul circus.  Reports of possible trade scenarios no longer begin with, “New Orleans GM Dell Demps is asking for…” but rather begin with, “the NBA front Office is asking for…” And what should be frightening to fans of the Hornets, well besides the thought that former Grizzlies GM Stu Jackson is leading negotiations for Stern, is that the price being demanded by the league is so exorbitant, that nobody can meet it.  That might be fine if there were a chance the Hornets could resign Paul this summer, but there isn’t.  He’s gone.  So, the best thing the franchise can do, is make a good trade and get back some pieces in exchange for their departing superstar.

The first trade that Demps lined up would have been a good deal, it would have kept the team competitive and in contention for a playoff spot.  The league nixed it, ostensibly because it didn’t include enough young talent, but in reality becuase it involved sending a big star to a major market immediately after the end of a lockout theoretically about restricting the ability of the big market teams to poach all the big stars.  Now, the problem is that Stern was so widely lampooned for turning that deal down, he has to actually kill in whatever trade the Hornets accept.  So, instead of approving a realistic and good offer from the Clippers – one that probably had more upside than the Lakers deal, although a dimmer immediate future – the NBA just keeps asking for more and more and more…

I think they’ll find a deal, and I think they’ll find a deal this week, but the longer this stretches on, the uglier it potentially gets.  What I still don’t understand, is how sending Paul to the Clippers is not sending him to a large market, when last I checked they play in the same building – let alone market – as the team that Dan Gilbert went apocalyptic about acquiring Paul.

This underscores what I mentioned the other day, that the large market-small market thing is really just a red herring.  What this is actually about is protecting the incompentent organisations from losing the talent that came to them through the fluke of the draft.  Take the five most notorious examples from the past two years:

  • LeBron James
  • Chris Bosh (and yes, we can quibble over him, but the Raptors thought of him as a franchise guy)
  • Carmelo Anthony
  • Dwight Howard
  • Chris Paul

Now, the only thing that their organisations did to “deserve” them, was be shitty enough to earn a pick in the top 4 of the NBA draft.  That’s how they earned these guys, so lets not make it out like these desperate small market teams have scoured the earth, found these rare looking lumps of coal and sat on them for 90 years until they became top ten basketball players.  No, they were crappy organisations, who were lucky enough to get a top pick in a good year (versus say in a year when Kwame Brown or Andrea Bargnani is the top prospect).  This sense of entitlement that Gilbert and the “small market” owners have to these players is misplaced and slightly asinine.

Then there’s the whole defecting the small market for the large market problem, which of course wasn’t a problem until last year.  But can we look closer at this problem?  What do all five of those teams have in common?  With the possible exception of Denver, outside of their superstar, they suck.  Not like, oh we’re probably not winning a title this year, but outright we might not win 20 games suck.  The year Michael Jordan retired from the Bulls (the first time), they still won 55 games.  How could they do that when they lost thier superstar?  Well, they still had Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Steve Kerr, Toni Kukoc, and Phil Jackson stalking the sideline.  In other words, they’d actually, you know, assmebled good players around their superstar.

Last year, after LeBron left the Cavs, they surged all the way to 19 wins.  The Raptors?  Well they just tore through the league, on their way to 22 wins.  Don’t tell me that the Cavs and Raps had put good players around their stars.  And then there’s Orlando.  Look at some of the moves made by Orlando GM Otis Smith over the last five years in an attempt to build a winner around his Superman.  You tell me which one you looked at, the day it was announced, and thought, “wow, that’s a great deal for the Magic.”

  • 2007 – Signed free agent Rashard Lewis to massive 118.2 million – 6 year contract.
  • 2007 – Signed restricted free agent Jameer Nelson to 35 million – 5 year contract.
  • 2007 – Traded Trever Ariza to the LA Lakers for Brian Cook and Maurice Evans.
  • 2009 – After making the NBA finals, allowed Hedo Turkoglu to leave via free agency and instead used that space to trade Courtney Lee, Rafer Alston, and Tony Battie to New Jersey for Vince Carter.
  • 2010 – Signed backup to your backups, backup Chris Duhon to a 15 million four year deal.
  • 2010 – Signed the ghost of Quentin Richardson for 7.5 million over three years.
  • 2010 – Traded Rashard Lewis’ bloated contract to the Washington Wizards for Gilbert “The Gun-toting Clown” Areans’ bloated contract.  This might have been a lateral move, except of course that Arenas has an extra year and 20 million on his deal (since amnestied).
  • 2010 – Tried to make up for the mistake of two years ago, by trading Marcin Gortat, Vince Carter, and Mkael Pietrus to Phoenix for Jason Richardson, Earl Clark, and the bloated, stubbed out cigarette remains of Hedo Turkoglu.

None, right?  And it’s not like I’m some master talent evaluator, I can barely find matching socks in the morning.  No, these were just blatantly bad deals from the get go.  What the Cavs and Magic did, was make it rain like Patrick Ewing at the Gold Club, assuming that giving large contracts to middling talent – or fading talent – was the same thing as building a championship squad around your star.  For all of their current cries of being “small markets,” each has had a payroll in excess of 90 million in the past five years.  That’s New York Knicks territory.

So, the problem arose, not because they weren’t able to spend, but because they weren’t able to spend intelligently.  Thus, their star wanted out.  It’s not like big markets don’t have the same problems.  At the start of the 2007 season Kobe Bryant famously demanded to be traded, and he was a phone call away from being shipped off to Chicago.  Instead the Lakers fleeced (sort of) the Grizzlies in a deal for Pau Gasol and well, you know the rest.  Did the Lakers keep Kobe because they’re a big market?  No, they kept Kobe because they made a smart move to surround him with a top fifteen talent.  And yes, it helps when you’re trying to stop your star from leaving if you can find Chris Wallace to trade with, but…

On the reverse side of the coin, you have three small market teams that managed to keep their stars: San Antonio, Portland, and Oklahoma City.  Tim Duncan’s obviously the poster boy of staying with a small market team and small market whiners say that he’s a special case, but why?  He was courted as a free agent and he chose to stay with the Spurs, because they’re a wicked smart organization that gave him the best chance to keep winning titles.  Pretty simple really; perhaps if they’d surrounded him with the likes of Mo Williams and Anthony Parker instead of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, maybe TD leaves for the big money deal offered to him by – gasp – the Orlando Magic.

Kevin Durant, well the press has made him out to be the anti-LeBron because he re-signed with the Zombie Sonics last year, but that’s unfair to both guys and, frankly, just a lazy narrative.  First, LeBron re-signed his first time up too, and second if Durant’s team wasn’t being run by Sam Presti, he might have made a different choice.  The point is that he’s on a team with Russel Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Eric Maynor, and Kendrick Perkins.  Plus, the Zombies haven’t destroyed their cap structure to assemble that talent.  So, Durant stays because there’s something worth staying for.

Finally, three years ago, before his knees when tits up, when Brandon Roy was a free agent, he didn’t flee Portland for a larger market, why?  Because they were young, they were talented and they were building something (and sure it’s since come crashing down, but despite that they to win 48 games last year with their best player a shell of his former self).  Now, you could counter that Roy wasn’t a superstar, and maybe he wasn’t in name recognition, but between 2007 and 2009 he was better than Carmelo or Bosh.  So, even if his name lacked the cache of those other guys, there were plenty of smart GMs who would’ve loved signing him.

To say that those five superstars left their teams because they’re small markets misses the point – especially as Miami is a mid-market franchise, albeit in a desirable location.  It wasn’t the size of the market, but rather stupid team management that led to the superstar wanting to leave. I’m sorry Minnesota, Sacramento, Washington, Cleveland, and whoever else is crying poor, but it’s true.  If you want to compete with the Lakers, you need to be smarter than them (given that mind boggling Lamar Odom trade this really shouldn’t be that hard)

Which brings us back to the Hornets, who were a second round playoff team last year.  Now, admitedly they just lost thier second best palyer as well, but if they lose Paul for nothing, how many games do you think they’d win next year?  15? 18? 22?  It’d be Charles Dickens bleak.  The Hornets Paul problem isn’t because they’re a small market, and it’s not because New Orleans isn’t a desirable place to live – it’s New Orleans for f***s sake – it’s because Paul watched the team sign a washed up Peja Stojakovic, trade away Tyson Chandler twice, and acquire freaking Willie Green.  They were poorly run and then bought by the league.  What’s the upside of hanging around for more?

All of which makes this Paul trade the most important deal in Hornets franchise history.  So, I can understand Stern holding out for a great deal, what I can’t understand is having Stu Jackson negotiate that deal.  That’s the sort of bush-league move that a small market team makes…

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