Harrison Barnes got traded mid-game last night, and you can find clips showing Barnes sitting on a bench and finding out he had just been traded to the Sacramento Kings all over Reddit and Twitter. This reminded us of the moment Boogie found out he had been traded to the Pelicans in front of the press during All-Star weekend. If you haven't requested a trade, it is always a shock and not something you want to happen in front of cameras. Then, we heard from LeBron.
I find this post to be hypocritical on several levels, so after being annoyed for a minute (or two), I decided to take LeBron's advice and call a spade a spade (it just is what it is). In the words of Jackie McMullin, I'm calling shenanigans.
PSA: if you want to argue with my points, please read the whole thing. I'm not coming at this like it's black or white; if you wish that I would recommend Nick Wright on Fox.
Rules of the game
The NBA is a highly regulated business. It is regulated by the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) that is agreed upon between the NBA (the commissioner and 30 team owners) and the NBA Players Association. That document states, among other things, the rules of free agency, draft, and trading players. The last CBA was agreed upon before the '17/'18 season and runs through '23/'24. The players were represented by Michelle Roberts, the executive director, Chris Paul, the President, and LeBron James, first Vice-president.
Klutch Sports Group represents players and is spearheaded by Rich Paul, one of LeBron's closest friends. A player representing other players constitutes a violation of the CBA (Article 36, section 3 on page 461); the logic behind it being that it would create a conflict of interest and an unfair playing field for contract negotiations. While LeBron doesn't have a formal stake in the company, it is widely regarded as a fact that LeBron uses it to influence deals in the NBA. Google Tristan Thompson and KCP contracts, see if they add up.
The entire NBA construction of the draft and contract regulation is for a different time and place, for this argument it is crucial to point out player agency has increased since LeBron entered the league, and this is a good thing for the sport. Disruption can lead to evolution, and players are entitled to demand more independence.
But do they accept everything that comes with it?
The Barnes deal
Here's LeBron's first moment of hypocrisy. He often mocked and criticized reporters for not having their facts right. "Traded this man while he was literally playing in the game and had ZERO idea." The implication here is that this was a cruel way of trading a man, not done in the right way.
As reported by NBA's newest insider Mr. Truth (a.k.a Paul Pierce), the Mavericks informed Barnes there was a trade that will probably happen, but Barnes expressed the desire to play. We can assume they told him during the game knowing the would get asked by reporters and wanted to give him a heads up. So the Mavs did right by him, it was his choice to be on the court, and that's how things developed.
Literally playing in the game - Harrison's choice
ZERO idea - they kept him in the loop for several days before the actual trade
Teams often don't inform the player and his agent because agents can use this to try to block the trade, leak it to the media, etc. For instance, publicly saying you want to leave and have your agent leak the Lakers are the only team you will re-sign with. Such actions reduce the incentive for teams to be forthcoming with players and agents.
The main target of LeBron's post is the disparity in reactions between team moves and player moves. LeBron is suggesting that teams receive understanding for moving or cutting players while players get hate and criticism for wanting to move to another team.
“I’m not knocking who traded him because it’s a business and you have to do what you feel what’s best but I just want this narrative to start to get REAL/CHANGE and not when a player wants to be traded or leaves a Franchise that he’s a selfish/ungrateful player but when they trade you, release , waive, cut etc etc it’s best for them! I’m ok with both honestly, truly am.”
LeBron is complaining about something that made him a millionaire. Throwing a ball through a hoop is inherently a ridiculous, insignificant action with no inherent value. No one is getting food or knowledge when players dunk. 99% of all professions on Earth are more valuable than being an athlete. There is a lot of indirect benefits, but they are all predicated on fans caring. When they do care, some enjoy the sport itself, but most fans care about their team beating another team. Now what makes their team "theirs"?
Most often it's a random fact - where they were born. It's like signing with a team that has a bad owner who you had a personal beef with merely because it is in a city close to the town you were born in. The only card the Cavs had to play was the one that LeBron was born in Akron - and he came back out of a sense of belonging to an area that did nothing to deserve him, he went back to Cleveland. FANS DO THE SAME THING. They are not rational, they feel a sense of community and belonging and want to compete with other towns/states/countries/aliens all predicated on the random fact they were born in place X.
We could get scientific and discuss Freud and the psychology of masses, but at a certain point, he concludes this is all homosexual energy as a foundation that holds the mass together, not sure I wanna go there. A sociological angle would lead us to Althusser and the explanation of how sports is only a form of ideology that creates chauvinism ("Boston is better than Philly because I love the Celtics and 76ers suck"), but we have too much of that in the world anyway.
So let's just keep in mind that the reason why people buy League pass, spend over $200 on an authentic LeBron All-Star jersey (production cost probably $10), and the new pair of his signature shoes is because they are fanatics (or short fans) and want a sense of belonging so the group they belong to can kick some ass and get tacky jewelry.
With social media, the newer generation of fans often loves a player, not a team. LeBron might say those are true fans and not the ones that prefer a team to a player. They're not; both are equally irrational. The only difference is that more fans nowadays are used to restarting a level every time they lose, so why not pick the best guy and you'll always be cheering on a winning team. They're not a fan of LeBron because of his principals or character; they like that he can dunk over anybody. Equally irrational.
If the league is more popular -> more money comes in -> bigger salary cap = more money for players. The popularity depends on 30 fanbases buying products and tickets because they believe one there is a way for their team to get that tacky jewelry at the end of the season. If players can get up and leave whenever they please, why the hell would you be an Orlando fan anymore? Teams must have a certain amount of control to sell hope while they are not good, or simply to keep a player in Oklahoma or Minnesota.
Is Anthony Davis selfish?
Yes, and he has every right to be. Careers are short; he is in his prime and Pelicans haven't excelled in managing the team. The man can choose whoever he wants to, as he did on July 9, 2015, when he took a pen and signed a 5-year extension saying that he will accept $27,093,019 for playing in New Orleans in the 2019/2020 season. He committed to 4 years (+ a player option) in exchange for a lot of money. This was all agreed upon under the CBA negotiated by his representatives, Chris Paul and LeBron James.
Such a contract influences all other decisions a team makes in free agency, trading for players, etc. The larger the contract, so is your responsibility towards the franchise. The reality is the Pelicans own the right to his labor until the contract expires. He has the right to tell them he wants to play somewhere else and it is good business to accept the fact you won't be getting his 110% and trade him. All teams know this, but they do expect to still have leverage in maximizing the years left under the contract.
Making a trade request with so much time left on your contract is respectful towards the team. Trading a season and a half of his services is worth more than trading him with three months on the deal, you are helping them get a lot in return. But when you then tell everyone it should be the Lakers, that kinda' takes away all the leverage from the team. So the result, not so good.
Teams see this as a very dangerous precedent they need to nip in the bud. If Klutch Sports and their LeBron ties can sign players and then orchestrate deals to teams of their choosing, then the teams have no leverage. It's one thing to be a disruptor in the way LeBron has been so far, taking control of his media impact, using social media and his agency to control his brand. He has signed shorter contracts to maximize earnings and put pressure on teams to perform during his prime. These are all moves under the CBA with risks for both sides. This latest development is challenging the foundation of how the league is doing business and the backlash is real:
The cost of being GM LeBron
There is a reason why players and management have to be separate. It comes down to lockerroom chemistry. As much as he denies it, we all know LeBron is very involved in all trades his team makes. For instance, the Celtics locker room had an issue with Ray Allen because he spent more time playing golf with Danny Ainge than he did hanging out with KD, Pierce, and Rondo. There is a "us and them" mentality that needs to be preserved.
As much as he talks about being professionals, this has to impact the locker room going forward. You can't expect the players not to think about the fact LeBron doesn't think they are good enough, because if he did, they wouldn't be in the trade
So Pelicans got the Lakers to offer everybody, refused, and now they all have to continue playing together. This would be hard if LeBron were a Tim Duncan level leader, let alone the subtweet style LeBron practices. To top it all off, fans will remind them of it as much as possible.
Let's call a spade a spade
Or LeBron - LeBron. The truth is teams don't just get understanding for their moves. A lot of teams (Suns, 76ers during Hinkie, Knicks, Kings until this year) got a lot of criticism for moves they make. If players want to increase their agency and have more power, with great power comes great responsibility. Can't have your cake and eat it too.
First of all, check your facts, Barnes was in the loop and wanted to play.
Secondly, if you sign a 4+1, the team has every right to expect the player to be committed to all four years. If he changes his mind, he should honor the contract and cooperate with them. If you negotiate and accept the CBA, then play by the rules. If you bend them, accept the criticism and backlash. Think it's deeply unfair? You're the vice-president, do something about it.
Thirdly, fans will always tend to lean on the team side of things because they are effectively cheering for a jersey and indirectly their city/themselves. You used the same logic and emotion when you returned to Cleveland. Btw, this brings in the billions.
One more thing, the Celtics trade IT to increase their chances, and it is cruel, but when the Cavs do it then it's - love? Mr. Davis senior, are you sure GM LeBron has more loyalty than any other GM in the league?
P.S. Does anyone know, how's his hand doing?