February 23, 2010
Every year, for the last five years.
A player hits the skids at the trade deadline, he's either promptly or eventually bought out by his new team and after a league-mandated 30-day wait, he heads back to the team that traded him for a nominal fee.
The point for the team that traded for him is to save money. It's usually a rebuilding team and doesn't really need the extra paycheck for what would be a superfluous player at the end of his career.
The point for the team that traded him away, only to welcome him back, is to win the championship. Pay for the salary to begin with, trade that salary for a player or players making just as much, then paying more salary on top of that in order to win. Win now.
The point for the player is to be happy and win a championship. To possibly give up a little coin in order to wrest a bit of control in a league that can trade him every other Tuesday for nearly the duration of his contract, and win a championship.
And, every year for the last five years, it seems as if the point for sportswriters and fans alike - of teams not directly involved - is to stomp their feet and tell us what a travesty this whole process is. Column or radio or TV fodder for the pros, message-board fodder for the followers. Both haughty, both wondering, good god in the heavens above, will someone think of the salary cap?
Oh, come off it.
I tend to wretch at things that - while completely legal under whatever governing body we're talking about - still come off as tacky and skeevy and skirting societal norms. But for some reason, trading a guy like Zydrunas Ilgauskas(notes) to the Washington Wizards, watching him give back money to help further put the team under the salary cap (Washington's dealing of Dominic McGuire(notes) already put the team under the threshold last week), and letting him walk back to the Cavaliers a month later just doesn't raise my ire.
I'm trying to figure out who it hurts. It appears as if Z's happy, the Wizards are happy and the Cavaliers are happy. I'm not usually one to get too lascivious in these pages, but if a happily married couple were to involve a third party without strings in a moment of heightened intimacy, and each came away happy and without regret, is this something to be tsk-tsk'd?
It's certainly gross and skeevy and icky, but it's not hurting any of us. Just because the neighbors down the block (let's call them, say, "the Boston Celtics") don't like it, it doesn't mean it's wrong, and it's not illegal. And, let's face it, "the Boston Celtics" would do it if they could.
Take away the emotion. Under a collective bargaining agreement that restricts trade, attempts to cap payrolls both big and small, doles out equal portions of a pie that a team from Los Angeles contributes to way, way more than a team from Indianapolis, and generally discourages quite a bit, I'm more than a little in favor of teams and players exercising a little free-will and free trade under the rules in question. I don't think you can term me a full blown capitalist pig, but I kind of like it when people get what they want. Especially if there are a lot of people getting what they want.
This is to say, with a new collective bargaining agreement about to hit the table in 2011 (we hope), I don't want the NBA to preclude what the Wizards, Cavaliers and Ilgauskas are attempting to do right now. I don't understand why we should deny the wants of players and teams currently working under the rules, deny them a bit of happiness just because it sometimes makes some people uneasy.
I don't get it. If you're under the cap or have a giant trade exception, you can get someone like Marcus Camby(notes) for a second-round pick that your trading partner never actually gets. If you're the New York Yankees, you can trade for a stud from Kansas City or Pittsburgh and hedge on giving your trading partners even a top five prospect in your system. If you're a pro football team and you don't like the way things are going, you can rip up the contract that you signed with a player or players.
Not saying that any of these things are inherently wrong. I am saying that, with a little tweaking (let's move that BRI middle ground a little to the left, please), the NBA's collective bargaining agreement is working quite well. Considering the league's third-favorite status. Considering the economy, the TV revenue, and those empty seats. A new CBA won't do much for those realities.
And for those who fill the seats?
If I'm a Cavaliers fan, I want Antawn Jamison(notes). I really want to keep Big Z, but I understand that Antawn Jamison helps, perhaps more than Big Z would. To get Jamison, and eventually get Ilgauskas back? That's heaven.
If I'm a Wizards fan, I want nothing to do with Big Z. Like him, respect him, but want nothing to do with him taking minutes away from the development of Javale McGee(notes) or Andray Blatche(notes). That's where I'm at right now. I know what counts for my team's future, and it ain't Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
If I'm a follower of Big Z, I want him heading back to Cleveland. Where he's always been. And the best chance for him to win a championship. I might like the idea that he can make more money as an Atlanta Hawk, but I want to see him with a ring on his finger, playing a role.
All three of these fans get what they want. The players and teams get what they want. So what if the Celtics or Magic piss and moan about Cleveland getting Antawn Jamison for the last pick in the first round. Haven't the Celtics, with Gary Payton(notes), done this before? Don't the Magic take advantage of rebuilding teams (signing away Rashard Lewis(notes) for little compensation, acquiring Vince Carter(notes) for expiring deals) themselves?
Does it make me slightly uneasy? Sure. It reminds of the other two big sports, and that's rarely a good thing.
But it works, for all involved, it's legal (in my opinion, it should stay legal; freedom to choose terms of employment is usually a good thing), and it's usually forgotten by the time we're about to fill out our NCAA brackets.
Let's, perhaps, forget this one a little earlier this year, OK?