Saturday, August 6, 2011

The NBA Lockout...

The NBA Lockout is of interest to me only by how it affects the New York Knicks. The Knicks need a defensive-minded center (Tyson Chandler of the Dallas Mavericks comes to mind) and a point guard that is not running on fumes. Chauncey Billups has been playing like an embalmed corpse for the last couple of seasons. He doesn't have what it takes to run a fast break or an effective pick-and-roll. Not anymore. The Knicks should have cut their losses and sent him packing, but they picked up his option for this coming year at a whopping $14.2 million. They also need a point guard who can pass AND create his own shot. Only Chris Paul or Deron Williams can fill this role. They won't get any of these players because they probably won't have the cap space, and the owners are to blame.

The most successful teams in the NBA are being held hostage by a group of owners who want to turn the NBA into a league of indentured servitude. They want players to stop conspiring to go to one specific team and they want to control free agent movement. Lesser-performing teams who struggle to pull in revenue are willing to take the league down and drown it in mediocrity with an inflexible hard cap. This is about as anti-capitalist as you can get. These very same owners, who made their wealth in the so-called "free market", now want to institute a type of economic policy that ensures profit margins for franchises that suck.

Player rep Derrick Fisher with union chief Billy Hunter-
As far as franchises losing money, here is how it really goes-if a team payed it's operating costs and salaries and pulled in a certain percentage as profit last year, and that percentage goes down a bit the next year (still pulling a profit, but not like the year before) they can claim they lost money. This is Bullshit Economic 101. What these owners want is protection from their own bad decisions to still rake in profits regardless of how they go about putting their teams together. Case in point-the Los Angeles Clippers. This is a franchise that has swallowed up more high first round picks than just about any other team in the last 25 years and have never built a championship-caliber team. That's because owner Donald Sterling is about the worst owner in all of sports.

Real Estate mogual and LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling-
Sterling's antics have been well-documented. He heckles his own players from the stands, refuses to modernize their facilities and has the reputation of being a cheapskate and a racist at his real job, that of real estate owner/developer.This year Blake Griffin, the 2011 NBA Rookie of the Year, is in the unenviable position of playing for this pathetic franchise. He probably won't re-sign with them once his contract is up, and I don't blame him.

Blake Griffin-Clipper for life?
But if the owners have their way, Griffin will somehow be stuck there, unable to move to a team of his choice. So a team that really wants to build a winner will lose out on his prodigious skills (a once-in-a-generation talent similar to the late, great Len Bias) and his movements will be constricted. The owners want to make it so that the most lucrative contracts players can sign will be with the teams they want to leave. Elitist economic terrorism at it's worst.

The one thing I do agree with is that long-term contracts should be restricted to three years maximum. For every Kobe Bryant, who, despite his personality issues is one of the fiercest competitors in the game while also being it's highest paid player, you have way too many others who purposely under-perform because they're lazy and/or they stopped caring the second the signed that lucrative max contract. We cannot have teams held hostage by guys like Stephon Marbury or Gilbert Arenas, whose insane contracts seriously imperiled the teams they were playing for. Those types of bad contracts hinder the forward progress of a team, and without the ability to extricate themselves from them it hurts a franchise for years to come. That is not fair.

Hoochies love franchise killers, as long as their contracts are guaranteed-
Revenue sharing is another anti-capitalist proposition the owners want to initiate. Owners who cannot put a winning product on the court through sheer incompetence want to share in the TV revenues of more successful teams like the Lakers and the Knicks.Baseball has a version of revenue sharing that also doesn't work. It's supposed to make smaller market teams more competitive because it infuses their franchises with money that should go to sign players. Funny thing is, the owners wind up pocketing the cash and do not utilize the funds to better their product.

What the league really needs is contraction. Get rid of teams that cannot pull in a fanbase or have a history of losing year-in and year-out and either move them to markets that can support them or shut them down. The Toronto Raptors, the New Orleans Hornets, the Sacramento Kings, the Charlotte Bobcats, the New Jersey Nets and the Minnesota Timberwolves all fit this description.

NBA Commissioner David Stern, not knowing when this lockout will end-
New Jersey struggled to fill its' arena when they had one of the best and most exiting teams out there a few years ago with Kenyon Martin, Richard Jefferson and Jason Kidd, so what will change when the move to Brooklyn when they are currently one of the worst teams in the NBA?

Contraction will increase competition for on-court employment, and maybe players will take their chosen profession more seriously when the alternative would be dodging heated coinage chucked from the cheap seats in places like Istanbul and the Ukraine, where many games are played in high school gymnasiums and the fans are about as friendly as a bunch of drunken skinhead louts at a Neo-Nazi rally. Or like a friend of mine who went to play overseas in Holland and management decided to motivate him by shutting off his utilities for two weeks straight despite the fact that his housing bills were part of his contract. Nice, eh?

Finally, let us not forget that it's the games that matter, not the owners and certainly not any one individual player. This was painfully evident when Lebron James came up so monumentally small in this year's NBA Finals. When Dwight Howard is forced to play with a team that was practically dismantled for no apparent reason (a crew that went to the NBA Finals a few years ago), why should he be stuck there for the duration of his career?

Instead of building on the momentum they had going, Orlando decided to sign bums like Vince Carter, also-rans like Gilbert Arenas, journeymen underachievers like Jason Richardson and out-of-work bozos like Jason "White Chocolate" Williams. That is just bad management, and they should rightfully suffer the economic consequences for such incompetence.

What about you, Mr. Hunter? You know anything? Didn't think so...
But the owners have another idea. Take money from more successful franchises, lock players up in small-market, mediocre teams and let the owners divvy up money from revenue sharing directly into their pockets as opposed to using those funds for player development. This type of self-inflicted parity will make the games even worse to watch than they are right now. The owners are thinking that fans will show up and watch regardless, but I got news for them-they may get what they want in the end, but if a franchise like the New York Knicks are not at liberty to build a winner however they can, the league and the game itself will suffer for it.

How boring is parity? Just watch college basketball, where individual talent and imagination has given way to hyper-athletic weight room freaks who just so happen to play a little ball on the side. When was the last time anyone sat and watched a college basketball game to watch a coach implement his system? Only twice, when coaches like Paul Westhead and Jerry Tarkanian had teams that would run every single one of their opponents out of the gym.

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