Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban hates the deal that sent former Sacramento forward Carl Landry(notes) to the New Orleans Hornets for little-used second-year guard Marcus Thornton(notes), and on paper, it's easy to see why. Because Cuban is not happy at the paper being transferred in this deal.

Because the Hornets are owned by the NBA, as the league struggles to find an ownership group that can guarantee the team's stay in Louisiana.

So any deal that Hornets GM Dell Demps puts together would have to be signed off upon by the NBA, but not by the league's 28 owners, even though they all have a financial stake in the Hornets. And this should help foster unending worries about behind-the-scenes machinations from the NBA.

And in a league where teams are ostensibly trying to save money and cut payroll in anticipation of labor negotiations taking place this summer between owners and players, the NBA-owned Hornets just did what Cuban claims no team wants to do right now. They sent Thornton to the Kings for a player making about four times what Thornton makes, taking in more salary while other teams are struggling to cut it, while owned by the NBA.

On paper, this reeks.

And I'll let Cuban vent from here. As initially reported on by NBA.com's Art Garcia:

"That's just wrong. That's just wrong. That's just absolutely, positively wrong," an incredulous Cuban said before tonight's Dallas-Utah game. "I'll probably go against the grain from everybody else, but that is so far wrong that it's not even close.

"There's so few teams in the league that can afford to do that and yet we're allowing a team that's owned by the league to do that?"

[...]

New Orleans is also a Southwest Division rival of Dallas and potential first-round playoff opponent.

Asked if there was any recourse with the league, Cuban said: "What am I gonna do? That's wrong. Beyond wrong."

This will no doubt be lapped up by all the cable shows on Thursday night, mainly because a league owning an NBA team is a novelty in itself, and every move leaves the league open for deserved scrutiny. Even on the other end -- the Sacramento Kings are struggling to fill their arena, hotshot guard Tyreke Evans(notes) is out for the next few weeks, and the NBA just sent Sacramento a replacement capable of averaging 20 points per game! Shenanigans!

Except, it's not.

Marcus Thornton makes around $760,000 this season, and he has been in New Orleans' doghouse since training camp. Most found this particularly unfair, as Thornton's iffy defense should in no way have precluded him from playing big minutes on a team that needed backcourt scoring (and, later, scoring from all over) desperately. But he was never going to play for the Hornets. Trading him was an unpopular move in New Orleans, to say the least, but the team wasn't going to fire Monty Williams 60 games into a season just to move Marcus Thornton back into the rotation.

So New Orleans traded Thornton for "a player making four times as much," as I wrote above. But "four times as much" for Landry is also around half the NBA's average salary, and Landry is not half of an average player. He's a year removed from being a certain Sixth Man of the Year candidate (before he was shipped to Sacramento), and he is at the very least a comparable player to Thornton. At best, he's superior, because scoring big forwards are so hard to find.

New Orleans wasn't going to use Thornton anyway, and they found a potential stand-in on the cheap for free-agent-to-be David West(notes). And it's not like NOLA has to pay a ton of Landry's salary, because he's 70 percent of the season into a $3 million paycheck that the Kings picked up most of, and a free agent himself this summer.

Unless this is outright price gouging, Cuban has no complaint, here. Asking the NBA to force the Hornets to make pure dollar-for-dollar trades would be a dereliction of duty for the league that owns a team and is charged with keeping them competitive. Nothing was backhanded here, and though Cuban also doesn't like the cash considerations sent Sacramento's way, the bottom line is that both teams traded two players that they weren't using (Landry was buried in a deep Sacramento frontcourt) for players that they could badly use down the road.

And teams are taking on extra money these days, by the way. The Knicks just did it, sure, but the Toronto Raptors (struggling in the standings) also added more salary this week. So did the Cleveland Cavaliers, hardly the picture of smarts and potential. So did the Atlanta Hawks, a team that has struggled to sell tickets for decades, and one that may have more front-office red tape than the NBA and Pentagon combined. And then halved, sure, but you get my point.

Slippery slope argument from Mark? Maybe. Upset that a division rival just upgraded with a player they weren't using? Perhaps. Mark Cuban, on a treadmill before a game, just riffing? You bet.

Nothing to see here, move along.

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