June 16, 2011
Petteri Koponen (pictured above, left), a native of Finland, is a well-regarded guard who was drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers in 2007. He has yet to sign with the team, but that doesn't mean he doesn't want to play for Portland. He'd like to play for whatever other NBA team would take him, actually, but because Portland holds his rights, his NBA options are limited. Actually, "options" adds too many options to his lone option. It's Portland, or broke, and he feels (through a translator) as if he's being "held hostage."
It's not something you hear about that often. An NBA team drafts a player, holds his "rights" for years, and basically just decides on its own whims whether or not that player is going to play in the NBA. Because if the team has a need for whatever that particular player brings, then it'll negotiate a deal with him and bring him over. But until that need is established, that player can't negotiate with any other NBA team, much less play in the league.
You get why it happens, and why it's legal in this private league of 30 teams that no player technically has a "right" to play for, but it still doesn't make it any less unseemly.
Here's what Koponen had to say about his status to a Finnish newspaper recently, as detailed by Blazers Edge scribe Ben Golliver:
It feels like Portland only hangs on to me so that none of their rivals could recruit me. Occasionally I feel like I've being held hostage. I have talked to the Blazers about this with my agent. This is not right, because this is all about my dreams and my career.
That is to say, the Blazers are loaded in the backcourt, even with Brandon Roy's(notes) knee issues, and they're hanging on to Koponen's rights because he's a good player who could be worth something in a trade.
And that's tough. Again, it's a private league, and the Blazers are working under rules collectively bargained and agreed upon. But letting a player's potential NBA career go to waste just because you're loaded at the guard spot and want to see if you can turn his "rights" into a chance to move five spots up in the first round of a draft is a tough thing to reconcile. If you're me, at least, and not Portland acting GM Chad Buchanan.
Here's Chad, in an interview with Portland's 750 AM radio station:
"We've had a lot of conversations with his agent over the last few years. We're well aware that Petteri would love to come over and play for us and play in the NBA but at the same time we have to make sure the timing is right for our team."
Buchanan is well-regarded around the league, but he's in a tough spot here. Still, he gets to work in the NBA. Petteri does not. His timing is good, Koponen's timing is not.
Shed no tears for Koponen, who still gets to play basketball for a living overseas, and might someday make the NBA. But you have to understand his frustration, even as the Blazers work squarely within the confines of legal NBA rules.