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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Why the NBA's Business Model is Bad

Because even in the days of bad trades (see, for example, when the 76ers traded Wilt Chamberlain to Los Angeles or Charles Barkley to Phoenix), teams tried to make their teams better. My guess is that there were those who might have wanted to tank the season to get a better chance at drafting an Abdul Jabbar or Jordan (and who would have blamed them, even if Jordan went third overall in the draft the year he left Carolina). But, by and large, teams have played to win.

Their judgment at times might have been bad, but it's hard to say that a general manager a la "The Producers" was looking for a "Springtime for Hitler" type of team in order to defraud his team's owners. (That might really make a funny movie).

But today's NBA GM is looking for expiring contracts. Make a trade, and the dollar amounts have to match. "Hoopshype", a website that I link to, lists the salaries of all NBA players, but today when a trade makes sense, it has to make cents. Otherwise, it doesn't make sense?

You follow?

So the reason the 76ers want the contracts of journeyment Joe Smith and Jamal Magliore is not because they believe that GM Billy King and Coach Mo Cheeks are Ponce de Leon reincarnated and can lead these glue horses to a Breeders' Cup victory. Hardly. They'll take the expiring contracts and free up a ton of cap room, especially after 2008, when Chris Webber's contract expires (he'll make $21.25 million roughly next year, and the Sixers also have $10+ million owning to new hoops TV personality Jamal Mashburn this year). So that's the ticket, and then they'll have the bucks to rebuild their team, the anti-Knicks, as it were.

Sounds like a plan.

Except it's all that's wrong with the sport. If this is what GMs have to resort to to make a team competitive (and that's an overstatement, because there are those GMs who are better at finding talent, who can resist bad long-term deals and who can find skilled players overseas, hoops traits that apparently have escaped most GMs in the Northeast corridor), then the league is broken. You should trade for talented players, not favorable contracts.

And then there's the question of who would want to come to a team with iffy prospects. Would that the NBA were like a bunch of HS prospects over 10 years ago who met at the summer camps and decided to go to Michigan together -- Chris Webber, Juwon Howard, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson. Imagine if you could draft Greg Oden and convince four talented free agents, all of whom can pass the ball, set screens and defend, to come to Philadelphia. Then you might be talking three titles over five years. But the odds for that to happen are apparently as great as they are for the 76ers, Knicks and Celtics to make the playoffs together this year. Teams that have a ton of cap room tend to be bad, and they might have to overpay a free agent to agree to come be the cornerstone of a rebuilding effort. Then there's the risk that that guy gets dumb, fat and too happy (after all, he's paid without being required to produce), and the team has five more years locked up in him. That's a vicious cycle for any GM (especially the bad ones).

Fans of good teams will argue that San Antonio, Detroit, Phoenix and Miami, to name a few, have figured out how to win under the current structure and anything that breaks it up will be the equivalent of foreign aid to nations who simply cannot get out of their own way. They'll argue whether it's good policy to enable the Knicks, Celtics and 76ers to protect them from themselves, and they'll make a good point. If pro hoops are all about competition, then the fittest, regardless of the system, should win.

It's a compelling argument, but it's still silly that GMs have to worry about matching up contracts and look to trade for guys whose contracts are expiring at the expense of winning today.

Consider two trades:

Allen Iverson, Kyle Korver and perhaps Rodney Carney to the Clippers for Corey Maggette, Cuttino Mobley and Shaun Livingston (the trade wouldn't be attractive in my mind if you substituted Sam Cassell, as has been reported, for Livingston)


Iverson going to Denver with ultimately Joe Smith, Jamal Magliore and a first-round pick going to the 76ers.

I'd be happy as a 76ers fan to get both Maggette and Livingston for Iverson et al., because along with Andre Iguodala you have a decent nucleus going forward. I'd be unhappy getting expiring contracts and little more in the latter trade. Both trades are rumored, but it would appear that the 76ers won't get much on-court help in exchange for Iverson.

What they'll get are expiring contracts, a chance to build through free agency (where they have failed before) and a better chance in the lottery.

All with Billy King steering the ship.

Perhaps all 76ers fans would be happy if King would be included in any deal that peddles Iverson away from Philadelphia.

Then at least there'd be a better chance for a successful rebuilding.

Philadelphia fans are funny. They booed former Phils GM Ed Wade out of town after an eight-year tenure where they never made the playoffs, lost Scott Rolen and Curt Schilling in bad trades and opted to hire Charlie Manuel as skipper over Jim Leyland, who wanted the job badly. Don't get me wrong, the Phillies and Wade deserved criticism. The fans don't like King all that much, but the 76ers have bungled their roster since their championship appearance in 2001, and King draws far less abuse than Wade (in fact, he and now emeritus Flyers' executive Bob Clarke, also no great roster handler in the past five years, drew far less flack combined than Ed Wade did).

Why is that?

The answer is simple and scary for both the 76ers and Flyers.

Those teams just aren't that relevant on the Philadelphia sports landscape today to anyone except their faithful followers (read: those who shell out the big bucks for season tickets).

And if I were the ownership of both of those teams (earth to Comcast), I'd be very worried about that.

If the local fans cared that much, ownership would hear it loud and clear. So don't take the lack of loud and sometimes harsh public criticism to mean that the sporting public in the Delaware Valley is not all that unhappy with the state of play in pro basketball and hockey.

They just don't care.


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Anonymous Buy Cialis said...

The fans don't like King all that much, but the 76ers have bungled their roster since their championship appearance in 2001, and King draws far less abuse than Wade (in fact, he and now emeritus Flyers' executive Bob Clarke, also no great roster handler in the past five years, drew far less flack combined than Ed Wade did).

4:10 PM  

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