Chris Paul situation highlights a still broken league

(Honestly, this could be the most stream of consciousness piece I have written but since the site has been dormant for a while it is posted as is.)

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Since a tentative agreement was reached between the owners and the former players union, who have since voted to reform, the NBA has been nothing short of…well, let us say, interesting. Rumors and rumor mongering have swirled, dominating much of the headlines. This is nothing new to the NBA, of course. However, the speed at which they appeared to gobble up coverage was surprising. The two main targets of the rumors are the biggest names to be free agents at the end of the shortened season: Chris Paul and Dwight Howard.

Marquee names appear in free agency regularly, though there are quite a few more players deserving of a mid level exception on that list each year. Yet this firestorm hit swiftly. Howard could go here, Paul there, perhaps both end up in New York or Los Angeles. The absurdity grew daily. There have yet to be actual games played, they begin on Christmas, but there is always something more than rumor. Something more than yellow journalism. It was and is ludicrous. Fans sat through the six-month period of speculation surrounding Carmelo Anthony last season and cringed each time a “trusted source with knowledge of the situation” merely speculated that Anthony would want to play for yet another big market team. He forced a move to the Knicks and used the media as puppets. New York obliged and gutted their roster.

Paul is at the forefront of establishing player power post lockout. Not Billy Hunter, not Derek Fisher. He wants to play in a bigger market. He will not stay in New Orleans when his contract expires and he will not sign an extension there. Dell Demps, the general manager of the league owned Hornets, knows this. Paul is forcing his hand.

A three team trade involving the Hornets, Los Angeles Lakers, and the Houston Rockets that would send Paul to Los Angeles was assembled as soon as teams could actively begin trade discussions. In return the Hornets, who did not want to lose their star player for nothing would receive Kevin Martin, Lamar Odom, and Luis Scola in the deal. Pau Gasol would have wound up in Houston. On the surface the trade seemed reasonable. There was one catch, however. The league owns the Hornets.

Small market owners, namely Dan Gilbert, were enraged that once again a player was dictating where they wanted to play. How dare they have personal freedom! Nonetheless, competitive balance, as shortsighted as it may be, was one of the rhetorical talking points of the owners during the lockout. All star talent flocking to the major markets scares some owners. Gilbert went as far to say that 25 teams in the NBA should just be called the Washington Generals. He may not be right, but he certainly is not wrong. Perhaps, though, he should put the whole LeBron James ordeal behind him once and for all and focus on building a better team. (Oh, and dump the Comic Sans.)

Despite everything that the lockout served to accomplish for the owners, the real power remains with the players. Sure, they will not be making as much money in the long run but what is a few million dollars anyway? They still make more than the average American household will in its lifetime.

Luckily, David Stern stepped in, as the authoritarian he is, to uphold the values of the lockout. He nixed the trade of Paul for “basketball reasons.” The internet was livid, but when is it not, honestly? Stern stepped in and killed the trade as the owner of the Hornets. That is his prerogative. It may not be a healthy move for the league as a whole but it was his to make. He fought for the owners to retake their power during the lockout. With this move he acted on it. It was a maneuver for control.

Since the trade fell apart it was adjusted and resubmitted to the league for approval. (At the time of this posting no news was released about the possibility of its approval.) This time Demps and the Hornets have complete autonomy in the dealings of the Hornets and their ability to make trades.

There will be a power struggle throughout the season and likely for seasons to come. The lockout was only the beginning. Players, specifically the all-stars, know they have the ability to force trades and can readily make their opinions known to the media and fans via Twitter. They can whip up a story in 140 characters or less. Owners still have the final say but when they know a player will leave in free agency they must react so that they are not left empty-handed. In the present situation, Paul knows he is in control despite what the commissioner did and the media eats it up while spinning rumors of their own.

Not for one second are all the people who cover the NBA to blame. No, that is far from the truth. In actuality only a few stir up the rumor mill for their personal gain. Most of those who cover the sport want to dissect games and plays, wins and losses. The situation before all of us is perplexing. The balance of power is being restructured in the NBA and in the way in which it is covered.  Paul and Howard have, not by their own doing, caused the storm of the shorted season. Combined they have trumped the madness that surrounded Anthony and training camps are only in their second day. One would think that this feat would be astounding but it is not. Not in the 24-hour sports news cycle. Not in a world were Twitter breaks every news story. This is how it is going to be from now on. It is not pretty but it must be accepted as a fact of life. Players dictate their fate and rumors will spew forth uncontrollably because of it.

Getting flustered will change nothing. Filtering out the garbage is the only thing a fan or writer can do. Sometimes it will be hard but there is no other choice. Soon games will be played and the rumors will ride shotgun instead of driving. At least we have basketball.

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Filed under Free Agency, NBA at Large, Players

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